Minnesota to study cold flow situation

By Jerry W. Kram | August 08, 2008
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 legislature when it reviews Minnesota's biodiesel mandate in 2009, according to Ralph Groschen, an agriculture marketing specialist with the state Department of Agriculture.

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 to 20 percent by 2015. The future increases to the biodiesel mandate will be contingent on the industry having a handle on quality control, as well as availability and cost-competitiveness of sufficient quantities of biodiesel.

In late 2005, 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 issue still hangs over the biodiesel industry. Groschen said the situation was more complicated that 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 No. 1 diesel fuel in late 2005 because of a rash of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. That was also around 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 Minnesota legislature instructed the task force to create a technical committee to discuss cold-weather issues related to biodiesel. The committee was scheduled to start meeting in late July or early August and have recommendations for the Next Generation Energy Board by January. "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 them," Groschen said.

The technical committee will also create recommendations to make sure that cold-weather problems with biodiesel won't recur. According to Groschen, the industry has already taken a proactive approach to preventing 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." He added that the Minnesota Department of Commerce will also be stepping up its inspections of biodiesel to head off any potential problems.
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