Proposal pushes biofuels standards forward

By Jerry W. Kram | August 03, 2007
New quality standards for biodiesel could come sooner rather than later, thanks to a push by Congress. At a recent meeting of ASTM International's (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) Biodiesel Task Force, it was made known that the proposed energy bill before Congress contains a provision that would require the U.S. EPA to develop biodiesel blend standards if ASTM standards were incomplete 270 days after the bill becomes law.

"It depends on whether the bill passes and whether that clause remains in the bill or gets changed," said Steve Howell, chairman of the ASTM Biodiesel Task Force. "From our industry's perspective, we fully support the ASTM process, and believe the ASTM process is the best in the world and should be continued to be used for all fuel specifications in the United States. It would be a mistake to delegate the setting of the fuel standards to any government agency, as opposed to using the industry consensus process."

There are still several outstanding issues to be resolved for the biodiesel and biodiesel blend standards, Howell said. The most pressing concern involves precipitates that form at temperatures over the cloud point, which would apply to pure biodiesel standard ASTM D 6751. The industry is currently gathering data to validate a method called the "cold soak filter test." "That's the major activity we are working on to determine what actions need to happen with ASTM D 6751," Howell said.

Currently, biodiesel blends up to B5 are being proposed under the ASTM D 975 standard for diesel fuel, provided the biodiesel meets the ASTM D 6751 standard prior to blending. In addition, a separate standard is being considered for B6 to B20. Howell said the proposed B6 to B20 standard would mirror the ASTM D 975 diesel standard with a few modifications. One exception would be an allowance for a higher distillation temperature. This is a measure that indirectly reflects how much particulate matter the fuel would produce after combustion. Since biodiesel produces fewer particulates, a higher temperature is allowed. The specification would also require two additional tests for the fuel: a stability parameter and an acid number. "The acid number is a long-term surrogate for stability," Howell explained. "Other than those two tests and one expanded parameter, it's just D 975 diesel fuel."

The growing popularity of biodiesel is another factor creating an impetus to quickly approve new regulations. "There is a lot of pressure from a lot of different angles to pass the blended fuel standard," Howell said. "That's primarily because people are using this fuel. It's important for regulators to have something they can enforce to make sure everybody is doing the right job and has good fuel quality. It's difficult for regulators to enforce specifications that don't exist."

ASTM works by getting a consensus on new regulations among its membership. That can be a time-consuming process, which may be one reason why the organization is being pressured to move forward more quickly. "The issue is that ASTM has always been based on data," Howell said. "Anytime there is a technical question that comes up for which you need more data, you have to go out and get that data."

The ASTM Biodiesel Task Force will meet several times to evaluate the additional testing results and prepare ballots to vote whether to adopt the new standards before the ASTM ballot deadline in October. "We are trying really hard," Howell said. "We will have to see how the data looks."
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