September 29 was heralded as a landmark day for U.S. farmers as the B2 biodiesel mandate took effect in Minnesota. On that day, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to implement an initiative that blends 2% biodiesel (B2) throughout it's entire diesel fuel supply. Currently, biodiesel plants in the state have a combined production capacity of 63 million gallons.
A month later, the biodiesel mandate experienced its first black eye.
On Oct. 27, Flint Hills Refinery found that some of its stored biodiesel had a flash point below the minimum of 130°C.
While the flash point of the biodiesel fuel in question was well within the parameters required for a safe, high-performing fuel and posed no safety or performance threat, it was technically “out of spec” as required by Minnesota's mandate.
As a result, the state granted a 10-day variance, or dispute period, from the B2 requirement to those refiners, pipeline terminals and fuel distributors who did not have — or did not have access to — biodiesel that met specification.
Some refiners and terminals immediately stopped selling B2. Other blenders continued blending during the 10-day variance.
Since then, state officials have clarified how the flash point spec will be applied in Minnesota. In fact, the state now says biodiesel must have a flash point of 130°C when it leaves the biodiesel plant.
The flash point of a fuel is the temperature at which fuel must be heated to produce a mixture that will ignite when exposed to a spark or flame.
The reason for the biodiesel being out of spec for flash point is still a bit of a mystery, says Bob Worth, farmer from Lake Benton, MN, and president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. He suspects that it could have been in flash point testing variability or it could have been that a small amount of other fuel, possibly regular diesel or gasoline, got mixed into the bio-diesel during transportation or storage. All of these other products have much lower flash points than pure biodiesel.
“It doesn't take much to knock fuel out of spec,” Worth says. “This is a glitch that will be worked out. Farmers across Minnesota and the U.S., myself included, have been using 20% blends of biodiesel on our farms for a few years already.”
This little hiccup in the biodiesel supply process seems almost insignificant when it comes to volume of sales. However, the mark it left with refiners, truckers and the public is hard to quantify.
According to Joe Jobe, executive director of the National Biodiesel Board, the situation was a wakeup call. “If we lose customers and the public during the first introduction phase, they won't come back,” he says.
For other states following Minnesota's mandate in hopes of passing similar legislation, stay on top of potential pitfalls. Watch what other states, like Minnesota, have done to head off problems. Learn from their experiences.
The future looks bright for biodiesel. Keep it that way.
Happy Holidays from the staff at The Corn And Soybean Digest.
Grain Marketing Symposium Set
Who wouldn't want to brush up on their grain marketing and production skills? Get first-hand advice at the 2006 Agricultural Economic Symposium Feb. 19-21 in Destin, FL. The event is coordinated by Brock Associates of Milwaukee, WI. Topics on the three-day schedule include the 2007 Farm Bill, farmland prices, weather trends, ethanol and biodiesel, financial management and much more.
Cost of the event is just $449 per person. To obtain a brochure about the event or to register for the symposium, call 800-558-3431.