New Uniform Quality Specs Give Biodiesel a Boost

By Editors on October 15, 2008 1:51 PM

In a move that promises to make life much easier for both producers and proponents of biodiesel fuels, ASTM International, one of the world's largest and most respected standards development groups, has published a codex of quality specifications for varying grades of biodiesel and biodiesel blends. The ASTM effort was jointly supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement. These comprehensive guidelines, which cover both the fuel characteristics and the test methodology to be used, will help ensure both consistency and quality in the various blends that do reach the marketplace.

Steve Howell, technical director for the National Biodiesel Board and Chairman of the ASTM Biodiesel Task Force, noted one key advantage in developing these new specifications: they are set on a performance basis for a diesel engine, not on the feedstock or the production process. "These specifications combine the input of engine interests, petroleum interests, and biodiesel interests, as well as government and military representatives, researchers and academics. It took cooperation and a lot of data and information sharing between all those parties to reach consensus. This is an important achievement for the biodiesel industry that will help move us forward."

At least one major U.S. automaker is on record confirming the positive impact of the ASTM guidelines. Chrysler LLC, which worked closely with the ASTM task force to develop a definitive specification for the B20 fuel that's been used in its Dodge Ram diesel pickup test fleet since 2006, claims that the absence of a universally known and accepted specification was "the single greatest hurdle" in preventing its unqualified acceptance for all B20 biodiesel in its entire diesel portfolio. Currently all major U.S. automakers and engine manufacturers accept the use of at least B5 blends, and 50 percent accept the use of B20 or higher mixes in at least some of their equipment.