ASTM enacts biodiesel blend standards

By Susanne Retka Schill | July 14, 2008
With the cold filtration test issue finally settled, the long-awaited trio of ASTM standards for biodiesel were approved at the ASTM International meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, in mid-June.

A major stumbling block to wider acceptance of biodiesel was overcome with the final approval of a cold filtration test to be added to the B100 specification (ASTM D 6751). The test provides additional assurance to buyers that the B100 won't contain precipitates that can cause filter-plugging issues in cold weather. There was initial concern with the test within the biodiesel industry, according to Don Scott, technology and regulatory engineer for the National Biodiesel Board. "Everyone is comfortable that they can meet the specs, and the biodiesel will be a better product," he said.

The tightened B100 specifications cleared the way for expanded biodiesel blends. The conventional petroleum diesel specification (ASTM D 975) can now contain up to 5 percent biodiesel, opening a new market for the biofuel as an additive. Scott explained that the updated standard means No. 2 diesel can now include B5 and still be considered the same fuel without labeling the blend.

The third change creates new standards for blends between B6 and B20 for on- and off-road diesel. Scott explained the new standards will allow testing a blended biodiesel against the ASTM specifications for physical verification of quality, rather than relying solely upon paperwork. The new ASTM standards will also provide engine manufacturers with specifications to use in engine testing. Nearly all major automakers in the United States currently accept the use of at least B5, with a few such as Cummins, New Holland and Caterpillar accepting blends of B20 or higher, according to the NBB. Several more companies are expected to raise their approvals to B20 with the approval of the new standards.

The three new standards will take effect once they are officially published, which is expected to be three to five months after the approval. In addition, the furnace fuel specification known as Bioheat (B5 in D 396) will take effect at the same time. The specification had been tabled at the ASTM meeting December 2007 while awaiting the outcome of the other three standards.

"It is quite remarkable that the big oil companies and engine makers on the committee have now joined forces with the biodiesel industry to help approve these standards," said Steve Howell, chairman of the ASTM Biodiesel Task Force. Howell and Stu Porter of BBI International Inc. were presented with awards of appreciation from ASTM at the Vancouver meeting for their dedication to leading the effort in developing the new standards.

More than five years of research and consultation with the ASTM fuel experts went into the new standards. "We addressed the issues and concerns with solid, scientific research," said Joe Jobe, chief executive officer of the NBB. "Without the tremendous amount of scientific data provided by independent organizations like Southwest Research Institute, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Coordinating Research Council and others-and the cooperation of the petroleum and engine communities-this would not have been possible."

Preparing to meet the demand for testing, industry veteran Pacific Biodiesel Inc. has opened a new quality assurance laboratory named Pacific Biodiesel Technologies Inc. in Salem, Ore. State-of-the-art equipment will allow "PB Tech" to provide ASTM D 6751 certificates of analysis and to support a number of additional tests to evaluate biodiesel quality. Tests may be customized to the specifications of the customer. Service can be provided for one test, the BQ-9000 Critical Specification tests or the full ASTM D 6751 suite of tests. "If biodiesel is to succeed as an alternative fuel, it is imperative that all biodiesel producers adhere to high standards of consistent quality," said Bob King, president of Pacific Biodiesel.
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