Editor's note

By Has Biodiesel Already Missed the ULSD Boat? | March 01, 2006
I'm concerned by what appears to be a universal decision by American refiners to deny biodiesel a chance to contend as an ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) lubricity additive, or for that matter, even a dilutor for off-spec fuel. The oil industry's wholesale pronouncement of this decision became crystal clear during "The Refining Industry and Biodiesel" breakout session at this year's National Biodiesel Conference & Expo, where at least three refiners said they had no plans to use biodiesel for either purpose.

Hey, I'm not a real insider when it comes to fuel properties and blending, but for months there's been all sorts of people in the industry talking about the big-time opportunity awaiting biodiesel this October when refiners make their official switch to ULSD-diesel fuel that consists of no more than 15 parts per million (ppm) sulfur. Some said biodiesel was precisely the type of lubricity blend stock ULSD would need. They also said biodiesel would maybe be used to dilute "contaminated" ULSD-batches of diesel that picks up impurities in pipelines, for example.

As it turns out, refiners-at least the ones at the National Biodiesel Conference-are not planning to do either of those things. They say biodiesel works well for both purposes, but specialty additives give ULSD the lubricity it needs in a cheaper, more effective way. As for plans to blend down off-spec ULSD with the renewable fuel, refiners say it would simply take too much biodiesel to be viable. That is, they say it would take blends as high as B15 or B20 to clean up even slightly contaminated ULSD.

In this month's comprehensive National Biodiesel Conference Review, BP's Michael Winward said a blend approximating B2 is needed to achieve the level of lubricity that is stripped from diesel when it is made cleaner. However, unless there are other compelling reasons to use biodiesel-such as strong consumer demand for B2-he said biodiesel is not the most attractive lubricity additive on the market. "The alternatives are formulated to be a little more powerful," he said, explaining that since commercial lubricity additives can be used in lower concentrations, they're a better bang for the buck. "You do the math and tell me what sort of proposition that is. Tell me how I can go back to my people and say they ought to use biodiesel as a lubricity additive."

Even Indiana-based Countrymark Cooperative, which blends biodiesel in 75 percent of its diesel fuel, is going to use a commercial lubricity additive in its ULSD starting this summer. The truth of the matter is that refiners have spent millions of dollars getting the infrastructure in place for the use of commercial lubricity additives because unless they blend biodiesel in 100 percent of their ULSD-which no big players are talking about-it doesn't make sense to use two different additives for one purpose. For that reason alone, Winward said, it is "overly optimistic" to think biodiesel is going to be used a whole lot for either purpose.

Other petroleum representatives are singing the same tune. At the National Ethanol Conference in late February, Marc Meteyer of the American Petroleum Institute said he simply couldn't predict whether biodiesel would be used at all as a lubricity additive in ULSD. "That's yet to be determined," he said, adding that looming concerns about biodiesel fuel quality is making refiners shy away from using it in ULSD. "The last thing we need to have happen when we have a major diesel change going into effect in June-and ultimately at the pump in October-is to have a fuel quality problem relative to biodiesel in the midst of having a potential problem in getting ULSD to the consumer. We're at a critical juncture."

As are we, Mr. Meteyer. As are we.
 
 
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