Cloud point issues scarce in Minnesota this winter

By | April 06, 2007
Most of the fuel problems that the Center for Diesel Research (CRD) at the University of Minnesota investigated over the course of the past winter weren't related to biodiesel, and the ones that were happened to be isolated to specific incidents in the farm community. "A large number of problems we looked at were caused by microbial or fungal contaminations in ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD)," said Kelly Strebig of the CRD. "Sulfur is a natural killer of biological organisms, so with that removed, there is a nontoxic environment for them to grow in."

While those fungi and microbes were clogging filters in vehicles burning ULSD-which has little to do with temperatures-petroleum fuel waxing was causing problems up north during the cold months. "A guy takes a B2 sample in a six-inch container and sets it outside overnight, and he tells me that the next morning he has two inches of crystals-that's over 30 percent of the sample," Strebig said. "That's not the biodiesel. It's petroleum fuel waxing." Petroleum-diesel fuel has a cloud point of approximately 15 degrees below Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit), so like methyl esters, it's susceptible to frosty environments, as well. "When we get down around 25 to 30 below, the fuel just waxes," Strebig said.

Aside from FUMPA Biofuels in Redwood Falls, Minn., which makes at least a portion of its biodiesel from animal fats, most of the biodiesel in Minnesota is made from soy oil. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports that on-spec biodiesel derived from vegetable oils has a cloud point of approximately minus 2 degrees Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit). However, off-spec fuel was blamed for last year's debacles.

Because of action and attention to details, nobody is blaming B2 on any negative fuel situations so far this year. "I would contribute that to the willingness of Minnesota producers to become BQ-9000 certified, and their adherence to that quality assurance program," said Charles Neece of FUMPA Biofuels. "I would also say that the collaboration between the Minnesota commerce and weights and measures departments working together to ensure that consumers get a quality product has been a big part of the lack of problems."

The cloud point of B20, for example, is between minus 9 degrees Celsius (16 degrees Fahrenheit) and minus 11 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit). Educating blenders and terminals to be aware of these conditions so that they can provide the proper blend ratios to their customers is something the Minnesota biodiesel industry has been focusing on.
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