Getting with the Program

It didn't happen overnight, but the program known as BQ-9000 is beginning to take root in the U.S. biodiesel industry. Following the lead of the first accredited producer, Peter Cremer North America, other companies are expected to opt in soon
By Tom Bryan | April 01, 2005
Quality assurance.
I
t is perhaps the biodiesel industry's highest priority. As the industry expands and the number of U.S. producers climbs, it will become simultaneously more important and difficult to guarantee the quality of each gallon of biodiesel entering the system. Establishing a double-layered safety net-a quality management program integrated at two crucial levels along the supply chain-simply may be the industry's best opportunity to protect and cultivate its product.

Enter BQ-9000, a program representing the quality system management requirements of the National Biodiesel Accreditation Commission (NBAC), an autonomous and independent committee of the National Biodiesel Board. The program's purpose is to cultivate the commercial success and build public acceptance of biodiesel by recognizing producers and marketers that demonstrate compliance with it.
Simply stated, BQ-9000 is designed to help assure that biodiesel is produced to, and maintained at, the industry standard, ASTM D 6751. But that's not all. BQ-9000 is also a quality systems program that includes checks on storage, sampling, testing, blending, shipping, distribution and fuel management practices.

The program was developed by an objective, feedstock-neutral industry task force that includes representation from all levels of the biodiesel supply chain, from producers and marketers to the petroleum industry and consumers. "We have a diverse group of people on the
commission," said Danny Norton of Ohio-based Peter Cremer North America LP, the first company to become an active BQ-9000 participant. "We've got a good mix from all sides of the business. When you create that sort of commission-when you establish an environment where people really feel comfortable throwing in their 2 cents on the issues-you have immediately taken a step in the right direction."

Norton is one of nine current commissioners with the responsibility of awarding accreditation to companies following successful formal reviews and audits of the applicants' "capacity and commitment" to produce-or market-biodiesel that meets ASTM D 6751 specification. The accreditation process is comprehensive and includes a detailed review of the applicant's quality program documentation, followed by a formal review of the applicant's conformance to its program (i.e., its follow-through).

Accreditation is available to two groups within the biodiesel industry: producers and marketers. Producers that successfully meet the accreditation criteria become "Accredited Producers." Marketers that successfully meet the accreditation criteria become "Certified Marketers."

A certification logo, or badge, is available to marketers that meet the requirements of BQ-9000.

It's important to note that the program does not evaluate facilities or process technologies used for producing biodiesel, but rather it evaluates the ability of organizations to comply with quality management system requirements tailored to fit the program.
BQ-9000 is designed to eliminate redundant testing while making it easier to track biodiesel in the distribution system and identify product that meets standards. It also reduces the probability of out-of-spec biodiesel reaching the market.

"Without BQ-9000, other people down the line would be expected to perform [ASTM certificate of analysis] testing," said NBAC commissioner George Kopittke of Griffin Industries, one of two producer-representatives.

Early bird gets the worm
In late September, Peter Cremer North America became the first BQ-9000 Accredited Producer of biodiesel. It was an investment that yielded a quick-and high-profile-return. Almost immediately, the company was named as the biodiesel supplier of choice for DaimlerChrysler's B5 factory fill of its Jeep Liberty Common Rail Diesel sport utility vehicles.

At the time of the announcement, Mack Findley, sales and marketing manager for Peter Cremer and a former NBAC commissioner said, "The BQ-9000 program is a natural extension of our existing biodiesel quality program here at Peter Cremer North America. We hope that BQ-9000 will go a long way toward instilling confidence among potential biodiesel users that the fuel meets not only ASTM specifications, but strict quality standards as well."

Norton told Biodiesel Magazine that the publicity Peter Cremer North America received after the Jeep B5 factory fill announcement was, in itself, worth the investment in BQ-9000. "That has probably been the biggest part of what it has done for us," he said. "It's been a huge marketing tool. When DaimlerChrysler decided to put B5 in its Jeeps, it turned straight to us. It has been great for Peter Cremer and great for the program. When that announcement was made, it really spiked interest in BQ-9000. I think you'll see more of these types of demands as the program grows."

According to Norton, it took Peter Cremer between four and six months to incorporate the program into its operations. "We were fortunate because we already had all of those ISO-9000 (internationally recognized quality management standards) organizational elements in place," he said. "It was more of a matter of going through the operational elements and getting the program on track."

Expect more companies to sign on
At a BQ-9000 restructuring meeting in January, 62 companies reportedly expressed an interest in participating in the program. In fact, Norton said several companies have already submitted applications. However, Peter Cremer remained the only company formally participating in the program at press time.

Why? According to Kopittke, many companies felt the original program, which was fashioned in a manner that mirrored several aspects of ISO-9000, was too cumbersome. Recently, however, the NBAC has taken steps to adjust certain aspects of the program.

"The extent of documentation was probably the primary stumbling block for most producers and marketers," Kopittke said. "The program was initially created to be on a level with ISO-9000, and that was probably too extensive for most. You might have a producer that is doing everything just right, but adding the organizational aspects of BQ-9000 might not be something a company like that could simply jump into."

The old adage, "If it's not broke, don't fix it," might describe the lack of enthusiasm some companies initially had for BQ-9000. "If you have customers in place-customers that have been doing the same thing for years and have not suggested a change-then there is really no motive there to make the investment," Kopittke said. "However, I think we will start seeing more and more [end users] starting to demand product coming from BQ-9000 Accredited Producers and Certified Marketers. We have already witnessed this with DaimlerChrysler turning to Peter Cremer for its Jeep Liberty factory fill. The whole thing is so new that you just have to give it time for the demand to be created from a [consumption side]."

According to Norton, companies that are not currently running an ISO-9000 type format, tend to be a little overwhelmed by the idea of transitioning to BQ-9000. "I think there's a general misconception that the paperwork and documentation is overwhelming, but that's really not the case," he said. "In a basic sense, it is simply a matter of, as the saying goes, 'Say what you do and do what you say.' But I think a lot of people hear the word 'audit' and feel as though they are being crushed by a big weight. So we have to keep educating people on this we have to keep tearing away those misconceptions."

Serving its purpose
Strip away all of the technical documentation and procedural jargon associated with BQ-9000, and the program is really about one thing: promoting the commercial success of biodiesel. The question, then, is how effectively is the program serving its intended purpose?

"I think BQ-9000 absolutely does, and will continue to do, what it was created to do," Kopittke said. "The program will continue to gain support, not just in the United States but throughout North America. In fact, it looks like the [Biodiesel Association of Canada] is on the verge of adopting it."

Kopittke said as the number of U.S. producers continues to grow, the industry's greatest fear is that non-ASTM biodiesel is going to hit the market and be attributed to widespread engine failures. "That, of course, would create a lot of negative press," he said. "You've got some small producers-the home brew types-that might try to squeeze product into the marketplace. Remember, we're talking about a fuel that many Americans are still unfamiliar with, so we have to make sure we continue to do things right."

Norton said increased participation is the key to making the program work the way it is intended to work. "What we need, and this is the real bottom line, is broader participation," he said. "That's really how you will maximize the effectiveness of the program. That's where you will truly be able to make those public assurances."

When it comes to fuel quality standards, Kopittke said, simply look to the oil industry as an example. "The petroleum industry is a mature industry, but that doesn't mean it has stopped working hard to promote quality," he said. "And these days you hear very few incidents of poor product reaching the market. When you buy gasoline from BP or Shell you expect good performance, and invariably you get it. We need to get to the point where we are offering the exact same general assurances with biodiesel. It has to be a matter of, 'No matter where you buy biodiesel or biodiesel blends, you will get a quality product every time.'"

Norton said he believes broader participation in the program will open doors to important new market opportunities. "The Big Three automakers (General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler) see it as a step in the right direction," he said. "I think it will grow the market. It will grow opportunities. So, generally speaking, broader participation is where I think it needs to go-and I think we are seeing that happening already."

For more information on BQ-9000, visit www.biodiesel.org/bq9000/ or call the NBB at (573) 635-3893.

Tom Bryan is editorial director of Biodiesel Magazine. Reach him by e-mail at tbryan@bbibiofuels.com or by phone at (701) 746-8385.
 
 
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