On the Road Again—Legally

Just over a year ago the future of B20 in California was uncertain, thanks to in-use requirements of the Alternative Diesel Fuels regulation, but as we’ve seen so many times, the biodiesel industry shone in the face of adversity.
By Ron Kotrba | August 15, 2018

The advent of the Alternative Diesel Fuels regulation in California is a lengthy, contentious tale of state agency missteps, legal wrangling and concessions. Some contend the multiyear legal war began as a battle for renewable liquid fuel market share in the lucrative theater of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Long story short: Ethanol producer Poet LLC filed suit against California Air Resources Board, arguing that its analysis of NOx emissions from biodiesel under LCFS implementation was inadequate. The courts ultimately agreed. The ADF is essentially CARB’s corrective measure to address its initial failure to adequately assess and mitigate any potential NOx emissions increases from biodiesel blends up to 20 percent used in California under the LCFS.

Biodiesel is the first ADF subject to the regulation. Renewable diesel has been used in California under the LCFS for years, but it is not considered by CARB to be an alternative fuel. “Renewable diesel consists solely of hydrocarbons, and is therefore considered diesel rather than an ADF,” the agency states. As of Jan. 1, 2018, biodiesel blends from 5 to 20 percent used in California must include an approved NOx-reducing additive, depending on the feedstock and time of year. Higher saturated biodiesel (with cetane values 56 or above) can be blended up to 10 percent without the need for a NOx additive.

“This was all completely new,” said Scott Fenwick, technical director for the National Biodiesel Board, referring to the development of NOx-reducing additives. “Biodiesel has a lot to offer, a lot of benefits, and the sole detraction in older vehicles was the potential for additional NOx generation over CARB diesel fuel. So the NBB and the biodiesel industry took it upon ourselves three years ago and solicited help from and worked with a number of different additive manufacturers across the country. There wasn’t a lot of interest in developing a fuel additive to mitigate NOx emissions, or a lot of hope it could be done. It was really the work and foresight of our governing board that provided NBB the opportunity and funding to do the initial research and development of the first approved additive in California.”

Fenwick says the first year was spent just reviewing the literature from various additive manufacturers. “What we found is combustion technology is very dependent on so many factors—engine, the duty cycle, things like that,” Fenwick says. “It was a lot of trial and error.” A couple of years and a million dollars later, the first NOx-reducing additive for biodiesel was approved by CARB: Vesta by California Fueling LLC.

Since Vesta’s approval in summer 2017, California Fueling has received several more approvals for different concentrations. “The only difference between the products is the treat rate,” says Pat McDuff, CEO. “Vesta is the only technology that actually improves NOx—all other products are on parity with the reference fuel.” McDuff says some of his larger customers using the Vesta additive are Kern Oil & Refining Co. and Renewable Energy Group Inc.

Shelby Neal, director of state governmental affairs for NBB, says the entire additive approval process far exceeded expectations. “At the end of the day, Vesta decreases NOx by 1.9 percent with B20,” he says. “On a B100 basis, we see a 9 to 10 percent NOx reduction compared to CARB diesel, which is a huge success because CARB diesel is already really clean. So this was a home run for us. It sent a signal that not only can this be done, but it was way easier than we thought. The only reason we got involved was because no one else was interested. The results were so good, everyone else thought, ‘We can do this too.’”

In February, Targray, a BQ-9000 marketer and distributor of biodiesel, announced CARB had approved the second NOx-mitigating biodiesel additive compliant with the ADF regulation: CATANOX. In March, Targray began offering its CATANOX additive as part of a fully blended, B20-ready turnkey solution at five of its fuel terminal locations in California—Stockton, Fresno, Bakersfield and two in Los Angeles. Unlike California Fueling and its Vesta product, Targray is not selling CATANOX as a standalone additive, but rather premixed with the B99 Targray already distributes.

“Targray is not an additive supplier,” says Olivier Benny, head of marketing and communications for Targray. “Our strategy with CATANOX was to continue focusing on what we do best—creating turnkey biodiesel solutions for retailers, distributors and fleets. With California being such an important market for us, and convenience playing a big part in the value we provide, we felt it was critical for our biodiesel to be fully ADF-compliant. Not having to invest in the additive blending infrastructure has proven to be a very attractive benefit for our California customers.”

In early May, REG—the largest biodiesel producer in North America and owner of a 75 MMgy renewable diesel production facility in Louisiana—announced its own unique, patent-pending solution to the California ADF regulation: a blend of biodiesel and renewable diesel it calls REG Ultra Clean Diesel. According to REG, the fuel reduces total hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emissions by 15 percent and particulate matter emissions by 40 percent, while emitting fewer NOx emissions than CARB diesel.

A month later, BQ-9000-certified biodiesel producer, laboratory and marketer Community Fuels, whose production and fuel terminal facilities are located in Port of Stockton, California, announced it was the first biodiesel marketer in the state to offer NOx-neutral biodiesel using the new Best Corp. BC-EC1c additive. Community Fuels intends to provide NOx-neutral biodiesel for all B99 loaded at its terminal, which plant manager Mitch Bishop says is ideally located to provide reliable, 24/7 biodiesel supply to dozens of Northern California and Central Valley petroleum refiners and terminals, as well as diesel distributors and retailers. 

“We had the opportunity to test the additive in advance of the CARB approval to ensure the additive would not have adverse effects on biodiesel fuel quality,” says Steven Sabillon, lab manager for Community Fuels. “Based upon our testing results, we are confident that the Best additive will maintain, and possibly improve, the biodiesel fuel quality.” CEO Lisa Mortenson says Community Fuels was not involved in development of the additive, but chose it for “a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, fuel quality and safety and handling.”

Ultimately, the real success of this series of events is, 18 months ago, it was uncertain whether biodiesel blends above 5 or 10 percent would be legal for sale and use in California at all, and now there are multiple marketplace options that are affordable, ADF-compliant and effective. It’s the classic biodiesel story—not just overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but thriving in the face of them.

“I would say the biodiesel industry hit another one out of the park,” Fenwick says. “Regulators in California, along with vehicle and engine manufacturers had a need—they were all concerned about NOx, and this industry stepped up to meet that need. We’ve got multiple CARB approvals now, and the NBB is pleased to see that. We wanted to get this industry kicked off to a good start. We were hopeful, and that’s why we were involved in the first certification—and we are glad to see the industry stepped up to find other solutions.”

The industry and NBB are not stopping here though. Neal says now there is a specific process to approve biodiesel blends above 20 percent in California. Fenwick adds, “In the very near future, I don’t think we’ll be constrained to B20, so the question becomes, ‘How high can we go above B20?’”

Author: Ron Kotrba
Editor, Biodiesel Magazine

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