Howell says 2016 may be busiest year yet for biodiesel at ASTM

By Ron Kotrba | January 29, 2016

An abundance of ASTM and ISO biodiesel activities may make 2016 the busiest year yet at the standards organizations, said National Biodiesel Board senior technical advisor Steve Howell. At the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in Tampa, Florida, Howell spoke about his involvement with biodiesel and ASTM for more than two decades, and he detailed ongoing and future technical work at ASTM and ISO that will ultimately expand market opportunities for biodiesel blends.

Howell began by discussing how diesel OEMs are seeking changes to ASTM D975, the diesel fuel specification, in order to better perform with their high-pressure common rail fuel systems. Changes being considered to D975 include adding more stringent water and sediment controls, among other items. Howell said since diesel fuel is the baseline on which biodiesel specifications—ASTM D6751 (B100) and D7467 (B6-B20)—have been developed, then if changes occur to D975, this could in turn require changes to the biodiesel standard as well. While modifications in these specifications to mirror adjustments to D975 are not necessarily on the slate of activities this year, he said they may be coming in future years.

The first current ASTM biodiesel measure Howell discussed was the recent approval to increase the allowable FAME concentration in jet fuel from 5 parts per million (ppm) to 50 ppm. While this was just passed in 2015, it had been a work in progress for several years. Part of the passage agreement was increasing the limit again to 100 ppm within two years, Howell said. The preliminary work to ballot the second jump will begin this year. Increasing the FAME content in jet fuel will allow more biodiesel to be delivered via pipelines that carry jet fuel.

Howell said for marine fuels, an ASTM standard is no longer used; rather, ISO 8217 is the prevailing fuel specification for the marine fuels industry. Another measure he anticipates passing this year or next is allowing up to 7 percent biodiesel in middle distillate marine fuel. He said balloting is already in process.

The on-ground gas turbine industry is also seeking adjustments to its fuel standard, ASTM D2880, to allow biodiesel blends up to 5 percent in the current grades, and B6-B20 blends in a separate grade under the same standard. Caterpillar-owned Solar Turbine approached ASTM about these changes last year, Howell said, adding that a working group was formed in December. These modifications would be similar to how the heating oil specification, ASTM D396, was changed in 2015 to allow B6-B20 blends. Howell noted that developing a separate standalone specification for B6-B20, as was passed in 2008 with D7467 for on-road biodiesel blends, is likely not the way to go moving forward. Developing a separate grade within that same specification makes more sense now, he said.

Back to the heating oil industry, Howell said another measure he will be working on this year is balloting an S15 grade of heating oil in D396. This is ultra-low sulfur heating oil with 15 ppm that will be balloted into No. 1, No. 2 and B6-B20 grades under D396. He said this is important because the Northeast U.S. intends to reduce the greenhouse emissions from energy expended to heat and cool buildings by 80 percent come 2050.

Furthermore, he said for higher blends of biodiesel in heating oil, the general consensus is that B21-B100 specifications will be included in D396 in a separate table.

“I envision going to one heating oil standard, and that will be performance-based,” he said.

Another intriguing ASTM activity Howell discussed involves closing a loophole in D975 that misses detection of straight vegetable oil (SVO). He said complaints have been made about diesel fuel that were suspected to contain biodiesel but, when further inspected, it was determined that the buyer bought diesel fuel blended with SVO. “Straight vegetable oil at 5 percent in diesel fuel will meet D975,” Howell said. As such, he said he is going to work hard to modify the D7371 blend test to differentiate between raw vegetable oil and biodiesel.

 
 
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