TCEQ delays TxLED decision

By | December 15, 2006
After a long and frustrating fight for biodiesel proponents in Texas, officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) decided to place another stay of execution on the Texas Low Emission Diesel (TxLED) standard Dec. 8. It was originally executed Dec. 15, 2005-but suspended by TCEQ until the end of 2006 to give involved parties time to prepare-and would make the sale of biodiesel blends illegal in the eastern part of the state (shown above). The new stay was recommended by TCEQ chairwoman Kathleen Harnett White and Commissioner Larry Soward. If formally voted for on Jan. 10, the stay will expire Dec. 31, 2007.

TxLED was born more than five years ago when TCEQ determined the need to combat NOx-filled smog in the state's densely populated 110-county eastern region. In order to reduce NOx, and thus smog and its associated health problems, TCEQ developed a regulatory standard for diesel fuel, which required that all fuel sold must contain a minimum cetane number of 48 and an aromatic hydrocarbon cap of 10 percent by volume. As a fuel, biodiesel meets both criteria.

Jake Stewart, who cofounded the Biodiesel Coalition of Texas (BCOT) to address in-state issues like TxLED, says an internal memo circulated last year among TCEQ officials that categorized biodiesel as a diesel fuel additive rather than a fuel, effectively rendered biodiesel's high cetane number and low aromatic content (the two criteria TxLED fuel is required to meet) irrelevant. TCEQ's decision was based on U.S. EPA data gathered from stationary engine dynamometer tests conducted in the 1990s, which showed that biodiesel slightly increases NOx emissions.

Shortly thereafter, TCEQ spokesman Morris Brown said any diesel formulation that increases NOx is unacceptable under this strategy. Due to B100's status as an alternative energy rather than a diesel fuel, it couldn't be regulated under TxLED because B1 through B99 is blended with diesel. However, blends are enforced under this ruling. The classification has caused Stewart and others a great deal of frustration, Stewart said, adding, "We have gotten caught in a technical eddy here."

Pacific Biodiesel, a fellow cofounder of BCOT and current biodiesel producer, has a great interest in the issues, said Kelly King, Pacific Biodiesel marketing and communications director. The company's plant in Carl's Corner, Texas, produces 2 MMgy of cottonseed oil-based biodiesel. Under the TxLED standard, Pacific Biodiesel will still be able to produce biodiesel but won't be able to sell it in eastern Texas.

"The problem originates from historic data that initially indicated that biodiesel blends might increase NOx, although they significantly reduce all other major pollutants associated with diesel," King said.

Since those dated EPA tests were conducted, recent testimony in the Texas Senate and a technical report released by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) scientist Robert McCormick indicate that B20's NOx output is similar to that of diesel fuel when chassis dynamometers are used. Some experts say chassis tests better represent real-world duty cycles and loads of certain diesel applications, like transit or school buses, as opposed to that of long-haul tractor trailers. There have also been credible reports compiled by the U.S. Navy, and scholastic institutions such as Texas A&M and the University of North Carolina.

"The real gem that came out of [NREL's] report is that [approximately] 50 percent of the data points that the EPA compiled in its conclusion were from one engine type," Stewart said. "The data set wasn't wrong, but the conclusion was weighted heavily toward an outlier engine point ... so we may very well see a shift in the EPA's official position in the coming months."
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