Experts Say Industry Standards are Key for the Growth of Biofuels
November 8, 2006
Two news events in early October highlight the importance of industry standards and certifications for the long-term growth of the biofuels industry. First, Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) announced that it has suspended its authorization to use UL markings on components for fuel pumps that deliver fuel blends containing greater than 15 percent ethanol, such as E85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline). Second, ASTM International, an organization for the development of international standards, released new specifications that lower the amount of calcium and magnesium that can be present in biodiesel. While either of these events could present short-term challenges, in the long run they will lead to greater use and acceptance of biofuels.
In the case of E85, UL noted that high concentrations of ethanol made the fuel significantly more corrosive. Although UL has no evidence of corrosion problems in fuel pumps, it suspended authorization of the UL mark on the pumps until it could establish new certification requirements and verify that the fuel pump components meet those requirements. The announcement was a short-term setback for E85, as some local fire marshals shut down public E85 fuel pumps in response. However, DOE and UL held a two-day forum on November 1st and 2nd to develop new standards, a move supported by the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition (NEVC). As noted by Alexander Karsner, DOE's Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, "...we at the DOE do not anticipate any trouble whatsoever with Underwriters Laboratories coming to a national reliable technical standard for listing the pumps. That is something that is imminently necessary as we grow and proliferate pumps across the country." See the UL notice and the responses from NEVC and DOE.
In the case of biodiesel, the new ASTM standard addresses new emissions standards for on-road diesel-fueled vehicles. Starting with the 2007 model year, these vehicles must be fitted with after-emissions treatment equipment, such as particulate traps. The new biodiesel standard limits the amount of chemicals that could potentially clog these traps. But as noted by the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), the new standard applies only to pure biodiesel. ASTM standards for B20, a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel fuel, will probably not be available until next year. That's the long-term opportunity for biodiesel, since the NBB notes that the majority of engine and vehicle manufacturers "view the adoption of an ASTM blended fuel specification as a key component for full, universal acceptance of B20." See the NBB press release.