Key step for global biofuel standards?

By Marc Hequet, International Editor | January 17, 2008
Web exclusive posted Feb. 1, 2008, at 12:59 p.m. CST

Three key world biofuel producers took a major step toward heightened international trade in biofuels Friday, announcing agreement by the United States, the European Union and Brazil on quality standards.

The U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), jointly with standard-setting government agencies in Brazil and the European Community, released an analysis of differences in U.S., Brazilian and EU standards for ethanol and biodiesel.

The agencies regard the report as a key step toward international standardization in worldwide compatibility of biofuels standards. Such coordination would pave the way for more international biofuels trade and lower costs of adapting biofuels to local and regional standards-and within national boundaries as well.

Existing standards already have much in common. Nine of 16 ethanol specifications the governments reviewed are "in alignment" and all but one of the remaining specifications could be aligned short-term. The hard-to-align standard is water content.

Biodiesel is not so well aligned-but blending various types of biodiesel could create an end product meeting regional specifications for fuel quality and emissions, says the report. The 94-page document is available at

Todd Taylor, a Minneapolis renewable-energy attorney, wonders how readily producers will change to meet international standards, given that the United States and EU have markedly different regulatory schemes

"I don't know if it will have any impact on production in ethanol plants right now," Taylor says of the NIST standards report. "I think it'll take five years before we have an integrated standard-and I think at the end of that time when we have whatever standard we do, I think it's probably going to get overrun by the market."

If producers, shippers and users such as automakers can agree, however, "I don't think it's going to take that long," counters Mary Saunders, chief of NIST's Standards Services division in Gaithersburg, Md.

"If there's an impetus and consensus among them," Saunders predicts, "this process can move much more quickly."
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