BQ-9000: Gaining Momentum

By no means has every American biodiesel producer and distributor jumped on board with BQ-9000, but interest is steadily increasing with each passing month. Does the program have what it takes to shape the future of the industry?
By Holly Jessen | May 01, 2006
About two years after the first biodiesel producer was accredited, BQ-9000, North America's only real biodiesel quality assurance program, is slowly but surely starting to catch on in the industry. While there are only five accredited producers signed up for the program and no certified marketers at the moment, 14 companies are currently in the application or audit process in either or both categories.

While those numbers are encouraging, it may be premature to deem the program triumphant at this point, according to Leland Tong, chairman of the National Biodiesel Accreditation Commission (NBAC). "It's like anything," he tells Biodiesel Magazine. You need some critical mass and you reach a tipping point, so to speak. We're not quite there yet, but I think we can be there in the next year or two."

With more companies signing on for both categories-including several industry leaders-it's bound to attract interest. "We are starting to get these folks that are saying, 'OK, this is the right thing to do,'" Tong says. "'Maybe it does take a little bit of time up front, but it's where our industry needs to be.'"

Danny Norton, quality manager for Peter Cremer North America, and an NBAC commissioner for the past three years, has no doubts that the program is catching on in the industry. Peter Cremer, which became the first BQ-9000 accredited producer in 2004, is now among other companies working toward being listed in both categories. Norton foresees that a lot more marketers will seek certification in the next few years. "It's critical," he tells Biodiesel Magazine. "It's critical to what we do."

Program roots
BQ-9000 is a combination of documentation and reporting requirements similar to International Organization for Standardization paperwork and testing protocols that meet ASTM D 6751, the biodiesel industry standard. It's voluntary and open to all biodiesel producers, distributors and marketers across the United States and Canada, Tong says.
After a couple years of development, the BQ-9000 program was released Nov. 22, 2002. It wasn't exactly embraced immediately. "The initial acceptance of the program was slow, quite frankly," Tong says. "I think there were a lot of folks in the industry-we were relatively small at that point-who didn't feel like there was any need."

While it's fairly easy to make biodiesel, it's more difficult to make biodiesel that meets ASTM standards. "The prevailing attitude is that you can mix methanol and oil and a catalyst together in a big tank, and stir it all up and separate out the components and you've got ASTM biodiesel," Tong says.

In contrast, refiners will not accept any fuel that has not been tested and shown to meet specifications. "So, [would any producer] think that the biodiesel industry can get by with making product that hasn't been tested to meet the applicable specifications?" Tong asked. "That attitude has to change, otherwise we'll be seen as nothing more than a nuisance and a small-time industry to the petroleum guys."

As much as he believes in the BQ-9000 program, Tong isn't saying it's the only avenue to success for biodiesel producers and marketers. However, standards to protect the integrity of the product are essential. "I'm not saying they've got to be BQ-9000. I'm saying that their philosophy towards quality has to be on the same level as a refinery or an oleo chemical company," he says. "And anything less than that is quite frankly unacceptable."

In the end, it all boils down to testing. No biodiesel should ever leave production facilities without undergoing testing at some point in the process, Tong says. And in certain locations, albeit few, that's exactly what's happening. "It's maybe not a widespread industry thing, but the fact is that we are getting fuel into the marketplace that does not meet specifications," he says.

The second half of that equation falls on the shoulders of marketers and distributors. "It doesn't do producers any good to produce a good product to have it messed up further down stream," Tong says, explaining that when there's a problem with biodiesel, it doesn't just affect the companies involved, it gives the whole industry a black eye. Norton agrees, saying, "It would be bad for Peter Cremer if someone else was out there selling biodiesel that didn't meet the BQ-9000 standard. So it's important obviously that Peter Cremer become accredited, but we certainly enjoy seeing other companies becoming accredited as well. We can't have biodiesel obtaining a bad name out in the marketplace."

Shifting Emphasis
So far, the NBAC has been concentrating its efforts on educating producers about the benefits of BQ-9000, Tong says. That's about to change in 2006-'07, however. In the next few years, the NBAC plans to target marketers, fuel procurement officers and fleet users by attending conferences, taking out advertisements and passing out promotional materials.

As more consumers start to get familiar with the benefits of BQ-9000, Tong believes those companies will start to demand their suppliers become certified marketers. In fact, he's already gotten several calls about how BQ-9000 certification can be included in purchase contracts. And, in St. Louis, the Missouri Department of Transportation declared a preference for working with a BQ-9000 program, even though a marketer has yet to complete that process.

It's also garnering attention from vehicle manufactures. A B20 Fleet Evaluation Team organized by that industry to study if there are technical issues with using B20 gave the program a nod. One of the group's top recommendations was that B20 used by fleets come from BQ-9000 accredited producers and certified marketers. And that, in turn, should prod more marketers in the direction of the program. "When end-users start asking for-and see-the value in the BQ-9000 program, that's what really piques the interest of the marketer," Tong says. "It's pretty tough to push down a program on a marketer. It's a lot easier if the consumer is demanding it and pulling it through."
As a BQ-9000 accredited producer, Peter Cremer has an advantage over other companies, Norton says. One example of that is the fact that DaimlerChrysler exclusively uses a B5 blend of the company's biodiesel in new diesel-powered Jeep Liberty CRD sport utility vehicles. Benefits like those are exactly why Minnesota Soybean Processors is working on becoming both an accredited producer of biodiesel and a certified marketer of the product says Steve Still, plant manger. First, the program just makes sense from a quality control standpoint. Next, he simply sees it as part of an industry trend. "If I look long-term to the biodiesel future I foresee our customers asking for that kind of a commitment from us to ensure that we have a quality project," Still tells Biodiesel Magazine.

Others feel the same way. Gary McDonald, manager of administration for the Arkansas operations of Eastman Chemical Co., says customers look to the fact that the company is BQ-9000 accredited as an important part of doing business with them. "As a relatively new industry, quality is a key component of [widespread acceptance]," he says. "And I think the BQ-9000 [program] is an excellent tool to make sure that quality is in place."

The Cost Factor
Stephen Chase, president/owner of Alliance Energy Services Inc., says his company may not be a certified marketer now, but he isn't against the idea. "I'm a great believer in quality and quality processes," he says.

With the end of the busy heating oil season, Chase plans to take a serious look at the program. West Central, the company Alliance Energy Services gets its biodiesel from, has spoken to him about getting on board with BQ-9000. "They want to make sure the product that they deliver is a quality product all the way down the chain," he says.
Alliance Energy Services already has several testing and quality assurance measures in place, so taking the step to become certified isn't a big deal. However, he does consider it a hefty investment. "I think if they do something about the cost there would be a lot more people doing it," he says.

The BQ-9000 program costs producers and marketers the same amount to get accredited or certified, Tong says. Initially, it costs $2,500 for auditing fees and $750 for an application fee. In two years, recertification costs $1,750.

Although the fees do generate revenue, the majority goes to the company doing the audit. It may seem like a lot of money, Tong says, but it simply costs quite a bit of money to hire an auditor. Then there's the opportunity for added value. "If it gives you an opportunity to better market yourself, you probably can recoup those [BQ-9000] costs, quite easily," he says.

Plus, the potential cost of not having the proper testing procedures and standards in place is much more taxing. Really, marketers should look at BQ-9000 as a risk-mitigation program, Tong says. Weighing the cost of the program with the cost of pumping biodiesel out of a customer's tank or having to fix damaged vehicles, it just makes sense for marketers to be certified.

Other Challenges
Implementing BQ-9000 protocols can be difficult for marketing and distribution companies, admits Mark Tarrien, quality control manager for World Energy and an NBAC commissioner. World Energy has been working on becoming a certified marketer since the program was first released.

The main difficulty for marketers is that the product can change hands many times before it reaches the end-user. The larger the company, the more difficult it is to implement BQ-9000. "Because on the certified marketer side, it is pretty strenuous as far as sampling and testing," Tarrien says. "For companies that have a very large supply chain, that becomes increasingly difficult."

Most of the company's quality management practices already follow BQ-9000 procedures rather closely. However, once it's certified, those practices will be implemented further down the line.

The program is definitely the wave of the future for the industry. Tarrien predicts biodiesel customers will simply demand certification or accreditation within a year or two. "BQ-9000 might not be an added value for you or your product, but it will be essential for what you have to be to be in the market," he tells Biodiesel Magazine. "So if you are not BQ-9000 certified or accredited, you are not going to have the opportunities as far as contracts."

Gus Kellogg, founder of Greenleaf Biofuels, says his company has only considered becoming a certified marketer on a cursory level. Since most of the biodiesel his company distributes comes from World Energy, he wonders how far down the supply chain companies will see value in becoming certified. In other words, once World Energy is officially a certified marketer, can Greenleaf simply tell customers it has obtained its supply from a BQ-9000 company?

No matter the answer to that question, Kellogg sees value in the program. "Even though there are some issues with it, I'm glad to see that there is a quality assurance program in place," he says.

For more information about BQ-9000, check out www.bq-9000.org, e-mail info@bq-9000.orgor call (573) 635-3893.

Holly Jessen is an Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach her at hjessen@bbibiofuels.com or (701) 746-8385.
 
 
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