Minnesota task force to study cold flow issues

By Jerry W. Kram | July 14, 2008
Web exclusive posted July 29, 2008 at 11:37 a.m. CST

The Minnesota Biodiesel Task Force is in the process of forming a technical committee to study the status of cold flow problems and solutions in the biodiesel industry. The committee will deliver a report to the state's Next Generation Energy Board, which in turn will make recommendations to the Minnesota legislature.

In a recent meeting of the task force, the members also reviewed the changes in ASTM biodiesel standards and laws passed by the Minnesota legislature. According to Ralph Groschen, an agriculture marketing specialist for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the implementation of the standards will effect how Minnesota's laws will be implemented. "It was very important that the B5 standard was incorporated in the D975 standard," he said. "That won't be acted upon until everything is finalized, but it is likely to happen. Having a specification pinned down for B6 through B20 was very important as well."

Minnesota's legislature raised the state's biodiesel mandate from 2 percent to 5 percent starting in 2009. The mandate will be increased in increments up to 20 percent by 2015.

Another major development was the tentative adoption of the wet soak filter method for testing cold flow in biodiesel. The Minnesota legislature instructed the task force to create a technical committee to discuss cold weather issues related to biodiesel. Plans are for the committee to start meeting in late July or early August and have recommendations for the Next Generation Energy Board by January 2009. "That group will be made up of technical folks who will be able to discuss what problems we can anticipate and what can be done about those," Groschen said.

Several years ago Minnesota biodiesel producers were bombarded with complaints of their fuel causing filter clogging problems around the state. While the problems were traced to off-spec fuel, the specter of that winter still remains over the biodiesel industry. Groschen said the situation was more complicated than just some bad batches of biodiesel. "It wasn't like biodiesel didn't cause some of the problems, but there were a lot of factors that year," he said. "It reminds me of when ethanol first came in. That was about the time the oil companies had to take lead out of the fuel so they were adding all kinds of things to get the octane back. But ethanol got the blame when there were problems." Groschen pointed out that there was a shortage of number one diesel fuel that year because of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. That was also about the time the industry was forced to switch to ultra-low sulfur diesel. "Some of the problems had to do with biodiesel but a lot of things didn't," he said.

The technical committee will create recommendations to make sure that the cold weather problems with biodiesel won't reoccur in future years. According to Groschen, the industry has already taken a proactive approach to preventing future cold flow problems. "We don't expect a lot of big changes to be made at this point," he said. "We are pretty sure that a lot of the issues we suffered from have been identified or solved. All of our biggest Minnesota producers are now BQ-9000 certified. The biggest problem we see is for product that comes from out of state. We think that is our biggest exposure." Groschen said the Minnesota Department of Commerce will also be stepping up its inspection of biodiesel to head off any potential problems.

The future increases to the biodiesel mandate will be contingent on the industry having a handle on quality control and well as the availability and cost competitiveness of sufficient quantities of biodiesel.
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