When it comes to quality, it may be the single most important factor to a successful future for biodiesel.
Without a doubt, that's the mantra from the recent National Biodiesel Board's (NBB) third annual meeting. Get this, when NBB had its first meeting three years ago about 400 farmers and industry types attended; last year, about 1,000. And this year, nearly 2,300 came to discuss what it will take to ensure that biodiesel can grow responsibly and maintain the quality users demand.
First and foremost, a consistent, quality product will drive its success.
Longtime supporter and actress Daryl Hannah, who attended the recent conference, sums up biofuels perfectly. “The future looks bright. If we do it right,” she says.
And doing it right is critical. “We had a false start originally with ethanol (gasohol) and its still follows the ethanol market,” says Joe Jobe, executive director of NBB. “We're in that position today with biodiesel. We've come a long way with a lot of momentum and we can't lose the confidence of our public. It's too hard to get back.”
Growth should continue at a rapid pace, especially after President Bush called for a 75% replacement of foreign oil by 2025 with alternative fuels. Biodiesel is poised to assist. In fact, in 2004 the U.S. produced 25 million gallons. Last year, that jumped to a whopping 75 million gallons for a 300% growth spurt. And by 2007, experts project that volume to hit 600 million gallons. Currently, there are 170 bills in 36 states that address the use of biodiesel.
Quality problems, of course, have surfaced since biodiesel first began fueling America's vehicles. But none more obvious than when Minnesota's B2 (2% biodiesel) mandate ran into quality problems and had to be pulled from the market in October 2005 for 10 days until the supply was brought back into spec. In short, the problem centered around plugged fuel filters. It again was temporarily pulled from the market in December with more problems. (See “Biodiesel Ices Black Eye,” December 2005, page 4.)
The biodiesel industry is answering the quality call by instituting BQ-9000, a quality systems program that includes storage, sampling, testing, blending, shipping, distribution and fuel management practices
If you want to know just how important BQ-9000 specs are, ask Terry Taylor, fleet manager at Sysco Corporation. Sysco, the largest foodservice company in North America with $30 billion in sales, has a fleet of 11,000 tractors and 6,000 trailers.
Taylor says they've been using B5 (5% biodiesel) at four locations in about 400 tractors and “we'd like to run more, but there's a problem with availability of product that meets BQ-9000 quality standards.
“We're committed to using renewable fuels and will roll it out to other locations once it's available,” Taylor says.
Undoubtedly, biodiesel will stumble. But hopefully, the industry will learn from the mistakes ethanol suffered early on. Get on board with the BQ-9000 program and urge everyone you know involved with biodiesel to spread the word about quality. It's in all farmers' best interest to keep the public assured of a quality supply.