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November/December 2008
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New Biodiesel Specifications Published by ASTM International

Higher costs at the pump, renewable energy and alternate sources continue to headline today’s news, and a group of newly published ASTM International specifications sets the standard for one type of these fuels: biodiesel.

Four standards now available from ASTM International provide quality assurance for biodiesel — a fuel used in freight trucks, buses, boats, ships and more.

“The specifications define properties and controls critical to the viable use of biodiesel blends in the marketplace. These standards, when fully enforced, in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission pump labeling requirements, will provide engine manufacturers and their customers confidence that the fuels will perform as expected,” says Roger Gault, technical director for the Engine Manufacturers Association in Chicago, Ill., who participated in the standards’ development.

The new and revised ASTM biodiesel standards include the following:

  • ASTM D975-08a, Specification for Diesel Fuel Oils — used for on- and off-road diesel applications, was revised to allow for up to 5 percent biodiesel;
  • ASTM D396-08b, Specification for Fuel Oils — used for home heating and boiler applications, was revised to allow for up to 5 percent biodiesel; and
  • ASTM D7467-08, Specification for Diesel Fuel Oil, Biodiesel Blend (B6 to 20) — a completely new specification that covers finished fuel blends of between 6 (B6) and 20 (B20) percent biodiesel for on- and off-road diesel engine use.

In addition, ASTM D6751-08, Specification for Biodiesel Fuel Blend Stock (B100) for Middle Distillate Fuels — used to control pure biodiesel (B100) quality prior to blending with conventional diesel type fuels, was revised to include a requirement that controls minor compounds using a new cold soak filterability test.

Standards with History and Significance

The widely used ASTM International diesel specifications have been in existence for decades with only minor changes to their contents.

“ASTM D975 and ASTM D396 are the primary specifications in the U.S. for each of the products that they specify. D975 is the commercial diesel fuel specification. D396 is the commercial heating oil specification. Now we have actually been given allowance to put something in that historically has not been in diesel fuel and is not a diesel fuel, with really no significant change to the properties or their requirements,” says Steve Westbrook, a staff scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and chair of Subcommittee D02.E0 on Burner, Diesel, Non-Aviation Gas Turbine, and Marine Fuels, the group in ASTM Committee D02 on Petroleum Products and Lubricants that oversees the standards.

Engine companies, vehicle manufacturers, pipeline operators, biodiesel and petroleum companies will use the group of specifications for fuel preparation, quality checking, engine design, and bid and purchasing contracts.

In addition, ASTM D6751 is mandated in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed into law by President George W. Bush last December. The bill, intended to improve fuel economy and reduce dependence on oil, also references several other ASTM biofuel standards. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also requires that all biodiesel intended for use as a fuel meet D6751, and internationally, both D975 and D6751 are used around the world.

About Biodiesel and the Specification Development

The ASTM specifications define biodiesel as a “fuel comprised of mono-alkyl esters of long chain fatty acids derived from vegetable oils or animal fats, designated B100.” Based on extensive testing and research, the specifications provide details on requirements for fuel characteristics as well as the relevant standard test methods to use for each.

Those fats can come from a variety of sources and still meet the standards, says Steve Howell, president of MARC-IV Consulting in Kearney, Mo., and chair of the ASTM biodiesel task force. “We set the specifications on a performance basis for a diesel engine, not on the feedstock that you begin with or the process that you use,” he says.

“This is the first time that a nonpetroleum substance has been formally allowed in a petroleum specification, at least on the diesel side,” Howell adds. “We’ve had ethanol as part of the gasoline specification for some time, but we’ve never had biodiesel as part of the diesel fuel specification until now.”

Petroleum corporations, biodiesel manufacturers, engine companies, military representatives, government representatives, researchers and academics participated in the standards’ development. “We have engine interests, petroleum interests, biodiesel interests and third parties. It took cooperation and a lot of data and information sharing between all those parties to reach consensus on these specifications,” Howell says.

In addition, the more than 2,000-member ASTM D02 committee, which includes representatives from 52 different countries, reviewed and voted on the standards.

Biodiesel Web Portal and Contact Information

A biodiesel web portal links the ASTM biodiesel specifications, numerous referenced ASTM documents, key government regulations and other related information through the portal. Users can compare revisions to any document included in the portal, make notes and annotations in the standards and other documents, and share thoughts and comments with others. The resource is available through a paid subscription.

CONTACT

ASTM Staff: David Bradley

Phone: 610-832-9681