BQ-9000: Moving Forward

Producers continue to pursue or maintain BQ-9000 accreditation, indicating optimism in the future.
By Erin Voegele | October 25, 2010
The National Biodiesel Accreditation Commission, which facilitates the BQ-9000 quality management program, was founded in 2000. In the decade since its inception, 37 producers, 21 marketers and three laboratories have been accredited through the program. Five additional organizations are currently undergoing the certification process.

Unlike ASTM fuel standards, the program is not designed to guarantee fuel quality, says NBAC Chairman George Kopittke. Rather, the program ensures that accredited organizations have quality management programs in place. "The BQ-9000 certification recognizes that an organization has a quality management system that is being effectively followed, such that the product is adequately being tested to meet biodiesel ASTM specification," says Kopittke, who is also employed as projects director at Griffin Industries Inc. "The BQ-9000 certification also requires that an organization have procedures in place to prevent product not meeting specifications from entering the marketplace. The BQ-9000 certification does not guarantee fuel quality, nor is there a BQ-9000 biodiesel."

The first program developed by the NBAC was designed for producers. The manual for that certification also included a section that allowed marketers and distributors to seek accreditation. In 2005, the BQ-9000 program was updated to include a separate certification pathway specifically designed for marketers and distributors. The laboratory accreditation program was launched in 2009.

Each of the three BQ-9000 certification pathways has its own unique requirements and objectives. The objective of the producer program is to allow customers purchasing fuel from a BQ-9000-certified producer to forgo extensive fuel testing, while the object of the marketer certification program is to maintain fuel quality and ensure blend accuracy, Kopittke says. The laboratory program is designed to provide customers with assurance that fuel testing practices are accurate and well-managed.
While non-BQ-9000 producers are not required to test fuel before it is sold, BQ-9000 certified producers are required to have a regular testing regimen for each production lot of biodiesel, Kopittke says.

BQ-9000 marketers must test fuel that is sourced from noncertified producers. However, when purchasing fuel from a BQ-9000-certified producer, certified marketers are only required to test for water contamination. Marketers accredited under the program are also required to have a storage tank management system in place to ensure biodiesel is not contaminated with water during storage, Kopittke says, noting that they must also validate blending processes to insure customers actually receive the blend they purchase.

Accredited laboratories are required to have a system in place to manage samples, and must train all personal that perform testing activities. They are also required to calibrate instrumentation, and establish a verification program to evaluate the quality of their testing. "While most laboratories may have some or all of these programs in place," says Kopittke, "a BQ-9000 laboratory certification indicates that the laboratory has all of these requirements and is faithfully executing them."

Reaching New Milestones

In August, the National Biodiesel Board announced that the Iowa Central Fuel Testing Laboratory became the first organization to earn BQ-9000 laboratory accreditation. The laboratory is housed on the Iowa Central Community College campus.
According to ICFTL Director Donald Heck, interest in developing the laboratory began in 2006. "We had put together a two-year biofuels program [at the college], and that's actually what sort of snowballed into the fuel testing laboratory," he says. The college was hosting a meeting to organize a trucking study, the 2 Million Mile Haul. During that meeting, NBB Technical Manager Steve Howell took a tour of the teaching that was under development. "I went out and purchased top-of-the-line industry quality systems, and I guess he was really impressed by that," Heck says. "That is what hatched the idea. The thought was that with some extra funding, ICCC could actually build a fuel testing laboratory and run it as an independent third-party laboratory."

ICCC is already benefiting from the laboratory due to the exposure it has garnered for the college. Community colleges don't usually have this type of science and instrumentation present in the lab, Heck says, which is helping to set ICCC apart from other community colleges. In fact, Iowa Congressman Tom Latham recently gave tribute to ICFTL in the U.S. House of Representatives. "It was really good exposure for the campus," Heck says.

There are also clear benefits for the students. Although the lab is not used for class exercises, students do have exposure to it. "I tell my students about what is going on in there, and they know it exists," Heck says. "They can walk in there and look at all the instruments. Just to have it on campus brings the academic rigor up a notch."

Iowa's Weights and Measures Bureau will also benefit from the lab. In order to access appropriate testing facilities, the bureau had been required to send fuel samples out of state. The development of ICFTL will allow that work to be done locally. "I think it's going to work really well," Heck says. "We can give them a little more personal attention, work together a little more closely. I think it should be more efficient and more effective for them."

In addition, the lab is likely to benefit local biodiesel producers and marketers. ICFTL is a nonprofit organization, which should allow it to price its services very competitively. "We want to at least break even, we want to be self-supporting, so we do need to charge something for all the equipment, fees, materials, and so on," Heck says. "There are a lot of costs, but we just want to bring in enough revenue to be self-sufficient. We are not trying to make a profit, so hopefully we can keep our costs fairly competitive."

The Process

Heck says going into the accreditation process, his initial impression was that it was going to be a nightmare characterized by mountains and mountains of paperwork. Although it was a lot of work, he says that it was much more streamlined than he expected. One action the lab took to help facilitate the process was to hire a consultant who was familiar with the BQ-9000 program. "That was probably the smartest thing we did, just having somebody who knows what they are doing help us through the process," he continues. "There is a fair amount of paperwork, a lot of documents to put together, a lot of things to do, and a lot of preparation. The whole process took about six to eight months, but having that consultant there to take us through it actually made it a very manageable task. It made it very doable."

An important first step for any organization seeking BQ-9000 certification is to develop a quality manual that addresses each specific program requirement, Kopittke said. If an organization doesn't have anyone on staff with quality management experience, it should consider hiring a consultant to help write the manual, he suggests, noting that the manual must contain work instructions so that activities are well documented.

According to Kopittke, entities seeking accreditation are generally required to operate under their quality management system for six months before they are eligible for certification. Before this six-month period can begin, the quality manual must pass a desk audit. After the six-month threshold is reached, an on-site certification audit is completed by an NBAC auditor. The audit is then sent to the NBAC, where commission members vote on the certification.

"The most important issue with organizations seeking and maintaining BQ-9000 certification is keeping focus on their quality system," Kopittke says. "It is imperative for BQ-9000 organizations to understand the importance of their quality management team meetings and their annual internal audit so that program requirements are understood and dealt with."

In the case of ICFTL, Heck notes that the accreditation process took a great deal of commitment and dedication from an entire team of people. There is no way any one of us could have done this alone, he says. In addition to Heck's laboratory expertise, the team also consisted of very skilled individuals who secured the necessary funding. The ICCC also contributed a lot of commitment to the project. "It was a huge undertaking," Heck says. "It took a lot of people, a lot of time, a lot of focus, and a lot of involvement to get it done," noting that the actual accreditation process was only one component of much larger project.

"After having gone through the whole process, putting the lab together, running these tests, and working with these instruments, I could see where there could be a huge difference between an accredited laboratory and one that is not accredited," Heck says. "Quite honestly, I don't think I would want to take samples to a laboratory that is not accredited."

The Future of BQ-9000

In early 2011, NBAC is expected to release revisions to the producer and marketer certification programs. "Most of these revisions are clarifications of program requirements," Kopittke says. "Over the years we have developed policies on issues such as certification suspension, appeals of NBAC decisions, idle production facilities, change in ownership, and provisional producers and marketers status. These documents have been on the BQ-9000 website, but we are planning to add these documents to the producer, marketer and laboratory requirements to manuals so that the BQ-9000 organization has these policies in print and on hand."

Despite the economic difficulties in the biodiesel industry, biodiesel producers and marketers are continuing to seek, and maintain, BQ-9000 certification. "Most of the certified producers are working to maintain their certifications even with their production facilities idle," Kopittke says. "This is in recognition that the end-use customers are demanding fuel quality and expect to purchase quality fuel from BQ-9000 organizations. Most of the major fuel purchases now require BQ-9000 certification as a precondition of buying fuel, and many OEMs are now putting BQ-9000 in their owners' manuals. Since producers, marketers and end users have recognized the importance of the BQ-9000 certifications, we expect the program to grow in numbers certified."

Erin Voegele is a Biodiesel Magazine associate editor. Reach her at (701) 850-2551 or [email protected]
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