Standards and Biodiesel

Standardization News

Standards and Biodiesel

An Interview with Scott Fenwick of the National Biodiesel Board

What is the significance of including biodiesel in more traditional fuels and fuels standards?

With today’s regulations, the National Biodiesel Board wants to bring forth credible technical evidence for biodiesel as a fuel component in today’s marketplace, and ASTM International provides that basis through standards.

That evidence was critical when we developed the first biodiesel specifications nearly 20 years ago. It was critical to have support from the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and vehicle and engine manufacturers for biodiesel to compete in the global fuels marketplace. Having ASTM standard test methods and specifications provides credibility throughout the world, that if you have a product that meets the ASTM specifications in accordance with test methods, that fuel will work in today’s engines.

Work to develop the fuel standards including biodiesel was tough but rewarding. The passage of the ASTM fuel specifications to use biodiesel as a blendstock, for blending with diesel fuel in the transportation market, was critical for biodiesel becoming a recognized fuel component by both state and federal regulators as well as vehicle and engine manufacturers.

And we’ve worked for the past 20 years to revise the standards whenever needed. We have had over two dozen revisions to those specifications over those years. That’s a necessary part of the process.

It’s not like you can walk into an ASTM committee, particularly D02, get a specification passed, and then walk away. A standard requires upkeep, continually asking hard questions and then developing the data to prove your point again and again and again. The hard questions can be: Is it the best test method? Is it an appropriate test method? Is it a necessary test method?

There have been some fairly significant changes to diesel and biodiesel requirements over the past 20 years that have left some producers unable to meet tighter, stricter requirements and unable to remain in business.
Today, engine tolerances and the severe hydro-treating that goes into diesel fuel today means that the engine lubrication may not last too long. Biodiesel can help with that shortcoming. So in addition to other additives, including 1 to 2 percent biodiesel in a diesel blend can provide lubricity that the engine needs, a cleaner burning component with better combustion properties to help other regulatory needs as well.

What role does testing play in the work of the National Biodiesel Board?

My day job is to serve as technical director for the National Biodiesel Board, a trade association representing primarily domestic producers of biodiesel and renewable diesel. We are consistently involved in technical projects, and we answer questions regarding higher blends, changing specifications, and changing requirements of today’s industry.

Our goal is to provide the research to vehicle and engine manufacturers necessary to approve at least 20 percent blends of biodiesel in any application that diesel fuel is used in. We want to make sure they have the latest data that inspires the confidence they need to use more biodiesel.

Above and beyond the fuel in those 18 wheelers rolling down the highway, we want to develop the research and needed data for using biodiesel whether it’s in the heating oil market, power and electricity generation markets, marine fuel, railroad, small power generators, backup generators for hospitals, or nuclear power facilities.

To avoid the appearance of bias, the National Biodiesel Board looks for recognized testing facilities that are capable of running the necessary standardized test methods. Whether that is the U.S. government under the Department of Energy through a national lab, or vehicle and engine manufacturers who develop the data, we want to be sure that the correct methods are being run and being run correctly.

You have expertise from working with fuel testing laboratories. Why is testing, laboratory accreditation, and proficiency testing important to their work?

Proficiency testing for laboratories, especially fuel testing laboratories, is absolutely critical. That’s how I started in the business, in independent laboratories over 20 years ago.

Laboratory accreditation is also critical so that I can trust the data we get for our customers and clients to better understand the information they’re getting.

The fuels marketplace is a global one, and fuels are constantly being traded throughout the world. It’s critical to know that if you test a product in Europe, when it gets to the United States, those same standardized test methods can be used to verify fuel quality.

That’s also why it’s important for users and experts to understand the ASTM International process as well, how open it is and that it’s a consensus process used to achieve the best worldwide standard possible.
There are other protocols in D02 such as the technically equivalent standards within the Energy Institute — a global membership organization for energy professionals. A lot of those standardized test methods were also built in the D02 process as well as within the United Kingdom. That way, users on both sides of the ocean — when they run a flash point or distillation test, for example — know that D02 has done the review so these technically equivalent standards are suitable and will yield equivalent results when checked by both seller and buyer on different sides of the ocean.

You are involved in several ASTM International committees on behalf of the National Biodiesel Board. Why is that?

In addition to D02, I’m a member of eight or nine other ASTM committees. Each committee plays an important role in the biodiesel industry.

In addition to producing renewable fuels, biodiesel producers have other co-products such as a crude glycerin that can be used in pharmaceuticals and additional chemical processes. E48 for bioenergy plays a part in that. D20 on plastics does too. A lot of these additional chemicals are made into plastics. One is a D20 test method that I’m currently involved in to determine the renewable carbon content of different products.

Sustainability is also huge in our industry. The EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] has several regulations that define how sustainable a product can be. So it’s critically important that the biodiesel industry be involved in sustainability, which means looking at life cycle analysis, environmental assessments, risk assessments, industrial biotechnology, and more: wherever biodiesel and renewable fuels play a part. 

While we’re primarily in the fuels marketplace, there are additional opportunities for standards development in biomass and biochemicals.

What are your priorities as chairman of the petroleum, liquid fuels, and lubricants committee (D02)?

It’s a challenge, one that I’m honored to have. Committee D02 has 2,600 members from dozens of countries around the world, so it truly is an international committee developing international standards.

The world of technology is evolving faster than ever and that goes for fuels as well. With changes in the technology used to burn and power the fuels, the growth of renewable alternative fuels, and changes in lubricant formulations, it’s more important than ever to ensure that the standards our experts write are suitable for use.

How are D02 standards used worldwide and why?

We know that there is active participation on a global basis in D02, and that’s necessary. Fuels are a global commodity being produced, traded, and consumed on a daily basis. With such diverse, global participation, ASTM produces the most viable and technically credible standards that can be used in the global marketplace.

Many countries participate in the global fuels marketplace. Fuels are not a country-by-country market. D02, better than any other standards development organization, offers a forum for input, and the standards are relevant to every country throughout the world.

Scott Fenwick is technical director at the National Biodiesel Board, which represents the biodiesel industry in the United States. In his role he leads the work to advance core member services for technical and quality assurance support issues. Fenwick, an ASTM International member since 2005, is currently chair of the committee on petroleum products, liquid fuels, and lubricants (D02) and a member of several other committees. 

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