Progress in the Face of Adversity

By Jessica Sobolik | July 14, 2008
Two things happened in the biodiesel industry in the past month that epitomized the polarized scale of good news versus bad news. Would you like the good news first or the bad news? I like to end on a good note, so I'll start with the bad.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association unveiled its plan to support a media campaign that directly blames renewable fuels for the rise in food prices. By now, I think everyone-even the general public, not just the biodiesel industry-knows that's not entirely true. So for an association to get behind such a cause, this might not be the best move for it. Still, the renewable fuels industry will be sure to keep a wary eye on it. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley addressed the GMA's campaign when he spoke to National Biodiesel Board members at the organization's annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in June. "Worldwide economic growth, global weather problems, rising marketing costs and the weak U.S. dollar are all having a greater impact on food prices than biofuels," he said. I concur. For more details about the NBB meeting and other events going on within the association, go to the NBB section of our magazine starting on page 26. For more information on the GMA campaign, see our news story on page 17.

Despite this campaign and other factors that continue to weigh heavily on the biodiesel industry, progress was made in terms of quality standards with ASTM International. In mid-June, three changes were made: a cold filtration test was added to the B100 specification (ASTM D 6751), the conventional petroleum diesel specification (ASTM D 975) can now contain up to 5 percent biodiesel, and new standards were created for blends between B6 and B20 for on- and off-road diesel. These changes are slated to take effect once they are officially published, estimated between September and November. At the same time, the furnace fuel specification for Bioheat (B5 in D 396) will take effect. For more information on the ASTM changes, see page 16.

In this case, I think the good news far outweighs the bad news. These new quality standards, which follow the extension of the biodiesel tax credit (in the BIObytes section on page 16), give the industry political support that can help it to grow. On top of that, Canada just passed a national renewable fuels standard that calls for 2 percent renewable content in diesel fuel by 2012. There are a couple biodiesel producers in Canada that can help to meet that goal, but even Canadian Renewable Fuels Association President Gord Quaiattini admits that the United States could help the country to meet that quota, as well.

All this just goes to show that when the biodiesel industry finds itself in a difficult spot (e.g., feedstock prices), it can create some good news out of the bad. This determination can only help further the use of biodiesel for many years in the future.

Jessica Sobolik
Managing Editor
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