Biodiesel ballots up for vote at ASTM meeting

By Ron Kotrba | June 15, 2010
Posted June 28, 2010

Several biodiesel ballots are on the table this week at the ASTM meeting in Kansas City, Mo. Steve Howell, technical director for the National Biodiesel Board, sat down with Biodiesel Magazine to discuss the measures.

Some in the industry believe biodiesel should have different grades, No.1 and No.2, similar to diesel fuel. This is one ballot being considered by subcommittee this week. "We're balloting a No.1/No.2 spec," Howell said. "The specs we currently have work just fine for 99 percent of the people. The philosophy is like with No.1 and No.2 diesel-No.2 works fine for about everybody, but if for some reason it doesn't work for you, try premium diesel fuel."

Not everyone, however, agrees that a No.1/No.2 biodiesel spec would be good for the industry. One source told Biodiesel Magazine that this approach could drive down the price of most biodiesel, what would be No.2, while placing a premium on No.1. It could also discourage use of feedstock with less than desirable cloud point and other properties.

Howell said as diesel fuel and engines change, the biodiesel specification will have to adapt.

Another measure up for ballot at the subcommittee level is a new test method allowing the Cognis QTA system to be used for analysis of multiple biodiesel properties. "It has an AOCS [American Oil Chemists Society] test method number now, so we're balloting to adopt that AOCS method into an ASTM method," Howell said. "That's the first time in the fuel business ASTM has tried adopting an AOCS method."

He said it would be a real benefit to suppliers and users because they could simply put drop of fuel on the analyzer to get instant analysis for several properties, and they could be analyzed as many times as desired quickly and cheaply, instead of costing 500 dollars a batch. So the cost savings can be huge. There still must be a wet chemistry standard, which will remain the referee in the event that there is differing results.

"People can use the QTA system as an option," Howell said. "It would increase quality analysis, meaning the fuel could be tested more often, and it would decrease cost."

Also up for vote, this time in the main committee, is a new stability method that is not so different from the current one except for some technical details with equipment, such as the size, type and length of tubes used in the test.

The new cold soak filtration test, ASTM D7501, is finally being balloted at the subcommittee level to officially replace the current annex method in the ASTM D6751 biodiesel spec. Howell said, "The new method allows for a water bath to heat the fuel up after the cool down, it's a faster test, and it will help make sure we don't end up with false crystals that haven't gone back into solution. It's also more repeatable, and it specifies one kind of filter paper so it's more consistent." In the annex method, one could get a variety of answers and testers could select labs that use certain filters and always pass. "So this will really tighten up the method and make sure we don't get false negatives," Howell told Biodiesel Magazine.

Votes at the subcommittee level are first ballots, so it's rare for them to pass on the first vote. Howell said the Biodiesel Task Force, which is 50 people strong, has worked hard through mock ballots and consideration to ferret out any concerns before voting time. "We say, 'Here's the proposal, what are the concerns?'" Howell said. "We don't always catch every one, but when the ballot comes out it's usually less contentious, but it does take more time and effort, but it also helps the ASTM process go faster." He said if there's a big concern in the task force, the measure doesn't get balloted. "If we did, someone would vote negative and the whole thing will get entrenched, so we do that research upfront."
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