Editor's Note

Rising B20 acceptance supports notion of higher market penetration
By Tom Bryan | April 06, 2007
In my March Editor's Note, I said the U.S. biodiesel industry is not as much hindered by its ability to win over consumers, engine manufacturers and automakers as it is limited by production costs, feedstocks and fuel quality concerns. My point was that the industry's goal of 5 percent market penetration by 2015-an outstanding target, by the way-should be more of a floor than a ceiling.

Assuming higher blends such as B20 will gain widespread acceptance is critical to this line of thinking, of course, and so I was glad to see that by mid-March, industry headlines started to validate my assertion. On March 21, for example, Cummins Inc. announced it had approved B20 for use in many of its engines. This was a consequential decree. After all, we're talking about an engine manufacturer that serves customers in 160 countries through 550 company-owned and independent distributor facilities, and more than 5,000 dealer locations. Keep in mind that these are not uncommon engines. No, we're talking about the distillate-sipping machines under the hoods of everything from medium- and heavy-duty trucks and motor homes to school buses, emergency vehicles, urban buses and shuttles.

Why did Cummins do it?

Well, to start, there's a real groundswell of support from consumers for higher biodiesel blends, but there are concrete, technical reasons, too. Cummins decided to upgrade its previous position on the use of biodiesel-which limited the recommended use to B5-for three key reasons:

--The ASTM D 6751 specification for B100 now includes an important stability specification.

--The availability of quality fuels from BQ-9000 certified marketers and accredited producers is growing rapidly.

--Cummins has completed the necessary testing and evaluations to ensure that customers can reliably operate their equipment with confidence using high-quality B20.

That wasn't all March had in store for B20. Earlier in the month, a private B20 summit was held in Detroit. The event was hosted by NextEnergy and, according to OPIS's Ethanol & Biodiesel Information Service, attended by approximately 75 people including representatives of the National Biodiesel Board, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, John Deere, Cummins and Caterpillar. The purpose of the summit was to identify obstacles to biodiesel blends above 5 percent. I should note that while engine manufacturers like Cummins and New Holland have approved the use of B20, most auto manufacturers still don't cover the fuel under vehicle warranties-although DaimlerChrysler has approved the use of B20 in limited circumstances.

The dialogue at the summit apparently centered around B20 emissions, effects on engines, and the improvement of fuel-quality monitoring efforts. There's already an ASTM spec for B100-and ASTM recently approved new limits for oxidative stability and other parameters-but industry leaders say regulators and automakers want the industry to approve a finished B20 standard before they cozy up to the blend. An ASTM spec for B20 is in the works, and the industry is dutifully working to develop a standard that can be universally applied to all diesel vehicles.

While serious challenges remain for B20, it is clear that acceptance of this higher blend is growing. Just recently, for example, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (who was expected to sign a future state B5 mandate into law) called for a state B20 standard by 2020. These and other developments tell me the idea of biodiesel achieving a 10 percent market share by 2010 or 2015 isn't such a crazy idea after all. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's flat out probable.

Tom Bryan
Editorial Director
[email protected]
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