Sticky start for Minnesota B2 standard

By | February 01, 2006
For the second time since Minnesota's new B2 standard was implemented in October, the state commerce department issued a temporary suspension Dec. 23 to investigate widespread allegations of fuel filter plugging. The suspension was scheduled to end Jan. 13, but biodiesel producers asked for more time to comply, so the suspension will be lifted Feb. 10.

Although unseasonably mild temperatures graced Minnesota during the time surrounding the variance, Ralph Groschen, agriculture marketing specialist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said most of the complaints occurred weeks before the variance went into effect when temperatures were much colder.

The Minnesota Trucking Association (MTA) led the charge by sending Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty a request for the temporary cessation after some of its members reported problems with filter clogging, according to MTA President John Hausladen.
The state commerce department also received complaints directly from users corroborating MTA complaints, Hausladen said. Furthermore, refiners' preliminary test data provided additional weight to the MTA's request allegedly showing that off-spec product made its way into the state's diesel fuel supplies. Finally, on Dec. 23, the commerce department's weights and measures division-in an attempt to isolate the problems-issued a moratorium on the statewide biodiesel mandate.

"There are at least two dynamics here," Hausladen told Biodiesel Magazine. "First, some product may be out of spec." The second dynamic he mentioned was a specification that may be insufficient, resulting in claims of not just off-spec biodiesel but of an off-spec ASTM D6751 biodiesel specification. According to Groschen, performance problems aren't expected so long as quality remains within the current specification.

"There seems to be a recipe to the problem now, so we think the guys in the white coats will figure this one out," Hausladen said. "It seems to be that the glycerin levels in the tested biodiesel samples are higher than engines and fuel systems can handle." Groschen backed that up, saying the focus is now on free and total glycerin.

Additionally, Hausladen referenced a parallel issue under investigation-that of black scum and sludge found in the fuel filters. "It appears to be some sort of microbial growth," Hausladen told Biodiesel Magazine. Microbes grow in petroleum diesel too, and whether or not this contamination is directly attributable to biodiesel is uncertain to say the least. "There are a lot of questions in my mind," Groschen said. "Microbes grow at the interface between water and petroleum diesel, and with all of the diesel outages the state has seen recently, who knows whether or not this stirred up [bacteria] in the storage tanks." Although he gave other possible sources of the problems, Groschen said he's not suggesting there aren't problems with some of the biodiesel in Minnesota, but any time a new fuel is used and problems are experienced-like with ethanol years ago-fingers inevitably point to the new fuel as the problem.

Hausladen said the MTA is not against using biodiesel. "We just want a fuel that works consistently," he said. "If you're a biodiesel producer, one of your biggest assets is a bunch of truckers saying good things about biodiesel. Conversely, if you're a biodiesel producer, one of your biggest liabilities is a bunch of truckers saying bad things about biodiesel."
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