Biodiesel Quality Exceeds Standard

By Shelby Neal | September 01, 2010
Fuel quality is an issue that isn't discussed nearly as often as it once was-and that's a good thing. It means that, as an industry, we have worked together to address what was once considered by some to be a less-than-stellar record.

In recent years, the National Biodiesel Board has taken a number of steps to address this issue.

First and foremost, NBB staff and members have been active in ASTM International, helping craft and implement appropriate fuel specifications for B5, B6-B20 and B100. Developing a consensus within our own industry, not to mention the petroleum and engine manufacturing industries, has been a challenge. But it has been achieved and now we can be proud of the fact that biodiesel is the only renewable diesel replacement fuel to have an ASTM fuel specification, much less three.

Second, NBB members helped start an independent, nonprofit organization whose mission was to develop and implement a set of best practices for biodiesel producers and marketers. This organization, the National Biodiesel Accreditation Commission, has created a voluntary program named BQ9000. To participate in BQ9000, members must pass a rigorous quality control inspection, undergo regular audits, and agree to adhere to a set of best practices that, among other things, includes testing every batch of fuel that leaves a company's facility. We have been pleased with the way in which NBB members have embraced this program. In recent years, more than two-thirds of the biodiesel produced in the U.S. has come from BQ9000 producers-and new members are added nearly every month.

Third, NBB's proactive effort to ensure fuel quality includes an aggressive education and outreach campaign for fuel distributors and handlers. Over the years, we have built lasting partnerships with state and national stakeholder organizations such as the Petroleum Marketers Association of America. The Ask Ben hotline, videos, literature, direct education, and outreach have all played a role in setting high quality standards for biodiesel.

Finally, the NBB has taken the highly unusual step of lobbying government officials for stricter and more aggressive regulation. We employ four individuals who travel coast-to-coast, educating state regulators about the importance of adopting appropriate ASTM specifications for fuel quality and about the necessity of enforcing these standards once they are set in rule or law. Since NBB began investing in this outreach program, regulation at the state level has improved dramatically. In 2007 only 27 states had adopted the ASTM D6751 fuel specification for biodiesel. Today, 47 states have done so. And that number could very well reach 49 by the time this article goes to print, meaning every state except Alaska has adopted and enforces the ASTM specification for biodiesel.

Because the biodiesel industry has been so proactive about ensuring consumers receive only the highest quality fuel, I am not surprised when I don't hear much about fuel quality anymore. Likewise, I am not surprised that when I do hear something, it is often positive. For instance, I attended a legislative hearing recently, during which a senator noted concerns about the quality of biodiesel produced and consumed in the state. When asked to respond, a state regulatory official replied by saying something to the effect of the following: "Senator, we have been conducting fuel quality surveys for more than a year and what we have found is that biodiesel is on spec more than petroleum diesel."

That, my friends, is progress. But as one of my colleagues in the industry likes to say, "The appropriate standard for fuel quality is perfect." So while better than petroleum is good, my colleague is ultimately correct. As such, we will continue to seek perfection through the continued diligence of our members and the initiatives discussed in this article. In the meantime, however, I am glad the topic of fuel quality has faded into the conversational background-for all the right reasons.
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