The Fourth Hour

Select speakers at the National Biodiesel Conference discussed ways to expand market and transport options for U.S. biodiesel while keeping a close eye on quality, all in the attempt to gain acceptance in the mainstream petroleum infrastructure.
By Ron Kotrba | March 17, 2008
New and expanding markets, pipeline transportation issues, and lingering quality concerns were all highlighted during educational tracks at the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla., in February. Compared with petroleum, biodiesel is young, with one-sixth the maturity in all respects. Global distribution practices will not change for biodiesel. Instead, biodiesel supporters must do their best to convince the oil industry that it should carry and sell the renewable fuel while minimizing obstacles to mainstream incorporation. As Ed English with Fuel Quality Services Inc. said, "The biodiesel industry is four hours old on a 24-hour petroleum clock."

At the conference, fuel oil distributors and bio pushers alike diligently advocated Bioheat, even if it was just to green-up oil heat's dirty image. "We're a stodgy old industry," said Vick Turk with R.W. Beckett Corp., a popular oil burner manufacturer. Don Allen with E.T. Lawson & Sons serving eastern Virginia, didn't mince words when he said, "You'd have to have a hole in your head as an oil heat dealer to not sell this product. All of us, as oil heat dealers, want it." Oilheating Journal publisher Don Farrell told listeners fuel oil suffers in the public eye from petroleum's bad image, especially as the growth of a collective environmental consciousness takes climate change, and the role petroleum plays in it, very seriously. "Perception is reality," Farrell said. Bioheat has the ability to change people's perception of oil heat, thereby changing reality. Michael Devine of Devine Bros. Inc., said oil heat is simply not conducive to today's eco-friendly language. He differentiated his company from the thousands of other heating oil distributors by saying, "I'm not in the fuel oil business-I'm in the Bioheat business." Even though Farrell spoke to the challenges distributors might face when deciding to carry Bioheat-improper blending due to a lack of adequate equipment and infrastructure, and with the high cost of biodiesel a bio blend would only add to the cost of an already expensive product-Devine addressed Farrell's points. "Oil heat companies today are not distinguishable from each other," said Devine, excluding his own business from the claim. He said Devine Bros. has built its reputation and retained a loyal customer base on one very important distinction: selling a greener, cleaner product. Devine tells his employees they are part of something different. What about Bioheat's slightly higher price? "If I'm not being shopped as a commodity, three more cents a gallon for Bioheat is nothing," he said.

Devine detailed what he has found to be the most successful marketing tools employed at Devine Bros., and at the top of the list was building a good Web site. "Everything we want to do from a marketing standpoint, we want to do through the Web site," he said. Secondly, distributors wishing to model Devine's success should develop positive public relations campaigns. Lastly, Devine said he does a lot of public speaking himself to get the word out about Bioheat's benefits to potential customers.

Seventy-three percent of the U.S. heating oil market resides in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. A statewide B5 oil heat mandate in New York State alone would mean an immediate market for 123 MMgy of B100. Farrell said the demand for a national B5 mandate in heating oil sales would equate to approximately 450 MMgy in B100-more than the industry produced in 2007. Before a national mandate can be considered though, the biodiesel industry needs a 5 percent bio allowance in the petroleum heating oil specification, ASTM D396. Experts predict this will be accomplished in June when ASTM meets. It will join the B5 in D975 measure, along with a standalone B6 to B20 specification, all three of which are tied to the passing of a test method for B100 designed to regulate the formation of solids above the cloud point. Once voted into the respective ASTM specs, however, an allowance of up to 5 percent bio in petroleum diesel without disclosure will represent a milestone needed to progress with a national B5 standard-whether that's with on-road diesel fuel or heating oil.

Even though B5 Bioheat could open up a 450 MMgy methyl ester market, some question why higher percentage bioblends are not receiving the same promotional efforts. The Bioheat trademark has no upper limit on bioblends, but Farrell said B5 "works technically, and is available realistically." Turk also said higher biodiesel blends can lead to inconsistencies in the atomizing nozzles on the burner, increasing pressure. Ultimately this would require adjustments to the air levels in fuel:air ratios, as opposed to the seamless utilization of B5. The experts have also warned users that higher blend ratios should minimize contact with yellow metals (copper and brass) in the heating system. Copper speeds up peroxide formation in biodiesel, English said.

Avoiding yellow metals was one of five tenets Turk suggested users live by. The other four considerations were: know one's fuel (insist on certification); use additives in the summer months when the fuel sits stagnant in tanks enduring high temperatures and conditions suitable for microbial growth; routinely check tanks for the presence of sludge and water; and periodically observe and change filters to avoid clogging. English explained how microbes attack biodiesel, going after the CH3 methyl group and leaving behind free fatty acids. Even though Bioheat supporters are cautious to advocate blends higher than 5 percent, several audience members attested to using higher blends in Beckett oil burners without incident.

Bioheat shows promise in expanding markets in the otherwise petroleum-dominated oil heat industry, but continued investigations and trials are underway to better understand the issues with pipelining biodiesel, and what is needed to overcome obstacles.

T.J. Zeth with Buckeye Partners LP, owner/operator of 5,400 miles of pipeline and 51 product terminals, said fuels entering a pipeline system must be fungible for indistinguishable commingling of like product. Biodiesel is not considered fungible. "This is essential for our system," Zeth said. "It allows us to enhance capacity. With all hand-offs, pipelines need to work together on how to treat movements. The biggest concern with biodiesel is the trail-back on jet fuel. Jet fuel quality is something we take very seriously here at Buckeye," which supplies major airports with jet propellant. Pipeline operators sequence fuels, meaning certain quantities of like fuels (i.e. ultra-low sulfer diesel) are shipped with interfaces between the movements of, for example, red-dye high sulfur diesel and JP-8 jet fuel. The interface naturally absorbs a little of each fuel that it separates, after which it would then be integrated or blended down into the product of lesser quality. The jet engine manufacturers have yet to establish a definition of "zero" fatty acid methyl ester (FAME), likely meaning a single-digit parts-per-million (ppm) maximum biodiesel allowance. "If it's set at 5 ppm, then anything above that we will consider contamination," Zeth said. The problem, however, is that there is no known or commercially available low-level FAME test to read single-digit ppm concentrations.

Zeth also alluded to data from a study presented at the International Association for Stability, Handling and Liquid Fuels Inc. conference in October, in which JP-8 with as much as 400 ppm FAME caused no adverse effects in jet engines. He also spoke of a test done by French pipeline operator Trapil, which moved biodiesel in a 20-inch pipeline and found disappointing results with regard to FAME trail-back in jet fuel. The investigation used a control sample where jet fuel was piped followed by regular diesel. The test case was jet fuel followed by B10 with 20 percent larger interface than used in the control. With the significantly larger interface biodiesel trail-back was still detected in the JP-8.

Lest anyone thinks the measure to allow B5 in ASTM's petroleum-diesel spec will ensure pipelining of bio, not so said Zeth. "We need more trials," he invoked. "We need better testing, and we need to get the jet fuel experts involved." Most cuts of fuel are measured by a densitometer, but Zeth said he's not confident FAME trail-back could be measured with such devices. It was also mentioned that pipeline operators don't test for the presence of biodiesel. An audience member asked how they knew B5 was present if it wasn't tested for. "Well, we don't test for mayonnaise either-people just don't put it in there," said Mike Reed with Northville Product Services LP.

Reed said his company has moved B5 and B20 blends in its pipelines. In 2006, Colonial Pipeline lost money when it tested two bioblend batches in a pipeline. Colonial is owned by several oil companies and is considered a relief valve for Gulf Coast refineries. Reed said the Colonial line may expand between Atlanta and Baton Rouge, La., at a projected cost of $2 billion. "Oil companies don't see biodiesel as an equal or better product, and the majors don't enjoy mandates," Reed said. He mentioned recent successes in Spain (Repsol YPF, S.A.) pipelining biodiesel, and advocated learning from those cases instead of trying to recreate the wheel.

Some people have suggested that the cold soak filtration test (CSFT) may not catch all of the insoluble impurities in biodiesel. Charlie Selvidge with Koch Industries Inc. said monopalmitates, monostearins, and monooleins, which can have melting points as high as 170 degrees Fahrenheit, could lead to filter clogging well above the cloud point temperature of the biodiesel. "In the vehicle these aren't really a problem because when it warms up, they dissolve," Selvidge said. "But not so at the refineries." Selvidge acknowledges the CSFT can catch most mono and diglycerides-mostly products of incomplete processing-but even B100 passing the CSFT in a B2 blend appeared to phase separate and clog refinery filters with inordinate concentrations of these three impurities.

Scott Fenwick with Archer Daniels Midland Co. presented results from tests done on distilled soy biodiesel. Samples were spiked with sterol glucosides and soaps. He concluded that the CSFT is strongly affected by sterol glucosides and soaps, whereas just water and soaps decreased filtration times-the water made the soaps more soluble. He also said monoglycerides or saturated monoglyceride content could not be correlated with filter times, and that it is more important to monitor sterol glucosides and soaps.

Ron Kotrba is a Biodiesel Magazine senior writer. Reach him at or (701) 738-4962.
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