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 April 2007
Plain Talk for a New Generation

We’re Working On It

SCIENTISTS AND POLICY MAKERS WORLDWIDE AGREE THAT THIS PLANET HAS A PROBLEM: GLOBAL WARMING. We are told that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, end an over-dependence on oil, and find alternative and renewable fuels to meet the demands of 21st-century living. ASTM International is already working on it.

Ethanol, a high-octane renewable fuel, is produced mostly in Brazil and the United States. But it is also produced in Asia and the European Union, and production everywhere is increasing. Over 30 percent of all gasoline in the U.S. today is blended with ethanol.

ASTM Committee D02 on Petroleum Products and Lubricants has developed three key specifications for ethanol, and they are already being used internationally — in countries such as Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, El Salvador, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Trinidad, and the United States.

A specification for biodiesel fuel blend stock (B100) for use in blending with diesel fuel oils has been developed by D02. This committee is activitely pursuing the development of specifications for biodiesel blends of up to B5 and B6 to B20.1 The work of Committee D02, with over 1,500 members from 52 countries, is a stunning example of ASTM International’s presence in the area of alternative fuels, but it is not alone.

Other ASTM technical committees are developing standards for hydrogen in energy generation, natural gas from coal beds, solar, geothermal, and other energy sources. Standards developed by these and other committees will write a new page in the history of the use of fuels.

Because it is so important, we have devoted this issue of SN to alternative energy sources. How we make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels may be the most critical issue of our time, and the members of ASTM International are the ones who will walk us through it, help us understand it.

But ASTM International is not working in a vacuum. Ten countries, including the United States, have agreed on a framework for global cooperation in research for a new generation of safer, reliable and sustainable nuclear systems called Generation IV. An ASTM task force (formed by Committee C28 on Advanced Ceramics) will be part of this effort, focusing on fuel cell systems.

Key standards have already been developed in the area of alternative and renewable fuels, and many more projects are in the ASTM pipeline, but my job is not to enumerate them here nor attempt to explain them. That is for the experts; their contributions are in the pages that follow. I can say that the capability and the will to accomplish a safe transition to alternative fuels is present in the relevant ASTM technical committees. This is something of which we can all be proud.

I have been told by the experts that there is still much to do. The development of a full range of standards and widespread use of them will take time. It will take a coordinated effort between standards developers and the manufacturers of vehicles and other equipment requiring fuel. It will also take a substantial amount of political will to bring about the changes every country on this planet must make. Much of how that will happen is not clear. What we know for sure is that ASTM International will do its part. //

James A. Thomas
President, ASTM

1 For example, B5 is a blend of 5 percent by volume biodiesel with 95 percent by volume petroleum diesel.