Houston ... Do we have a problem?

Texas is a legendary Republic, world-renowned for its admiration of the laissez faire approach to economics, social policy and public oversight. Ironically, bioidesel proponents find themselves bound by Austin's upcoming Low Emission Diesel rule, which do away with the sale of untreated biodiesel blends for 80 percent of the Lone Star state's population by October.
By Ron Kotrba | July 01, 2005
Trailing California, Texas is the second most populous state in the country. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2002 that three of the 10 largest cities in the United States are found in Texas-Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Ostensibly, the awareness of California's smog problems is ubiquitous, as is the state's special fuel regulations to combat this environmental hazard. Lesser known is Texas' problem with smog. Even more obscure is the state's solution to deal with this problem-a fuel specification called Texas Low Emission Diesel (TxLED).

The U.S. Census Bureau's 2000 records indicate that Texas has a population nearing 21 million. Morris Brown, program coordinator for the New Technology Research and Development Program (NTRDP) in the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ)-and the biodiesel industry's point-person on the TxLED rule-said 80 percent of the state's population lives in the TxLED-control zone. TxLED's regulatory rule will impact a region with a potential citizen-customer base of approximately 17 million, not to mention the myriad of diesel truck drivers hauling goods in and out of the region.

A method to the madness
The TxLED fuel standard specifies all on- and off-road diesel fuel sold in the 110-county region to have a minimum cetane number of 48 and contain no more than 10 percent of aromatic hydrocarbons by volume.

The idea of the standard, however, has gone through changes since its inception a few years ago. Brown said the latest revision was made in March 2005, changing its effective date from April 2005 to October 2005.

"When [the original rule] was first adopted in late '99 and [early 2000] we used the California regulations as a model for this program," Brown told Biodiesel Magazine. "They've had their regulations since 1993. The only real difference is that California had a sulfur standard, and we added the cetane requirement [and dropped the sulfur requirement]." With federal standards soon to be regulating the nation's diesel sulfur content, Brown said, "We decided to get out of the 'sulfur control' business."

The upcoming TxLED and federal regulations won't butt heads though. In fact, they will compliment each other.

The federal NOx regulations only apply to new vehicles, but Brown said, "TxLED allows [NOx] reductions to occur in older vehicles TxLED is designed to have reduction with just the use of the fuel. There is an automatic reduction in the combustion itself." He said a 5.7 percent to 7 percent reduction in NOx comes from using fuel meeting TxLED specifications. Similar to the federal rule, the TxLED regulation will take a phase-in approach.

According to Brown, on Oct. 1, diesel producers in the region are required to begin producing Low Emission Diesel (LED), and by Nov. 15, distribution terminals are supposed to be in compliance. "By Jan. 1 of '06 is when [LED] is required at retail stations," he said. "The Oct. 1 date is when the producers are required to begin producing and supplying the LED into the distribution system."

Neat biodiesel doesn't fall within ASTM D975 standards for diesel fuel though, so B100 lands out of TxLED's jurisdiction. It's B2 to B99 that takes the hit. Dawn Howe, the Texas Soybean Association executive director, said, "People in the industry here in Texas are saying, 'This could shut us down.'"

"We're not saying biodiesel isn't a good product," Brown said. "The problem is that it tends to increase NOx. The TxLED control strategy is a NOx control strategy. Any increase in NOx, we don't want to see."

Lauren DeMore with the Natural Fuel & Energy Inc. (NFEI) biodiesel project said, "The NOx emissions [from] using biodiesel fuel is highly dependent on the quality of the fuel " along with other parameters. She noted, however, "The quality of biodiesel from [NFEI] will meet the requirements of the TxLED NOx ruling."

Hopped up on hope
Jake Stewart, Biodiesel Industries Inc. project manager, said, "The fat lady has not sung" on this issue yet. "The decision has come out in the 11th hour," and he hopes to see it change. However, Brown's reply was, "This ruling has been out since 2000. Producers have known it. It has gone through three legislative sessions now, and it is moving forward."

"We know NOx is the Achilles Heel of biodiesel," Stewart added. He said the decision not to include biodiesel blends is a result of the commission's interpretation of the rule. "The biggest losers are the distributors and the consumers. Texas is in the position to lead the biodiesel front, and one rule interpretation has jeopardized that for consumers." He said this is a warning shot indicating that the industry needs to more actively engage these types of state technical agencies.

Although the sale of untreated biodiesel blends will be outlawed in Texas soon, Brown offered several TCEQ-sponsored solutions allowing the sale of biodiesel cocktails in the 110-county control zone. All alternatives require commission certification though, which includes submitting an application for approval, NOx testing at an approved facility and NOx emissions results comparable to, or better than, the TxLED fuel.

"We allow [certified] alternative diesel formulations," Brown said. The biodiesel-blended alternative formulations most likely would be spiked with NOx-reducing additives. "We accept California diesel specifications as well. We also accept California alternative formulations. Meeting the strict specifications is just one way [to meet the TxLED requirements]."

Since biodiesel meets the strict standards of TxLED specifications-low aromatic hydrocarbons and cetane numbers above 48-National Biodiesel Board (NBB) regulatory director Scott Hughes said, "We asked the commission, 'If biodiesel is blended with TxLED diesel, do we need to certify?' and it's answer was, 'Yes, you do.'"

According to Brown, the NTRDP is offering more than $2 million in competitive grant funding to help pay for applicants' NOx testing and certification. Hughes said, "The NBB talked to stakeholders in Texas, and we submitted three applications for funding to look at a B20 blend with additives to control NOx."

Hughes continued, "TCEQ has taken the most conservative approach to this. While this can have a dramatic impact on the market [in the region], the TCEQ and the NBB have good lines of communications open, which will go a long way in getting some approved formulations out there."

Ron Kotrba is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach him by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (701) 746-8385.
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