Pay attention Minnesota soybean farmers. The ASTM International’s newly released specifications for B6-B20 biodiesel with traditional heating oil is a win for biodiesel.
Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council director Bill Zurn says bioheat is an important market, one that the MSR&PC has been working to open for Minnesota soybeans.
In November, the Callaway, Minn., farmer visited New York City as part of a bioheat tour to learn more about how the largest city in the U.S. uses biodiesel (click here to read related story). Because biodiesel adds 73 cents value to every bushel of soybeans sold, the MSR&PC invests soybean checkoff money into researching, promoting and expanding markets for biodiesel.
“On the bioheat tour, we learned how all of New York City has a B2 mandate, but all city-owned buildings have a B5 mandate for heating oil,” Zurn said. “With this announcement coming out it just opens the door to use more biodiesel to heat homes and buildings in the Northeastern states.”
ASTM International is an organization that sets industry consensus standards for fuels. The existing No. 1 and No. 2 grades in ASTM D396 already cover 5 percent biodiesel or less. The blend is branded Bioheat® fuel.
“The oilheat industry is reinventing itself as a 21st century fuel by moving to higher blends of low carbon biodiesel and ultra-low sulfur levels across the board,” said John Huber, president of the National Oilheat Research Alliance.
The new B6-B20 grade is a blend of all the parameters contained in the existing No. 1 and No. 2 oilheat grades, but adds parameters for stability and allows a slightly higher distillation temperature for the blends. The changes are the same as those for B6-B20 in on-and-off-road diesel fuel passed by ASTM in 2008.
“The data set behind these changes is one of the most extensive I’ve seen in more than 20 years at ASTM,” said Steve Howell of M4 Consulting, an ASTM Fellow who chairs the ASTM Biodiesel Task Force. “Having an official standard for higher biodiesel blends in heating oil will help foster consumer confidence and give blenders and distributors a needed tool to incorporate more low carbon, ultra-low sulfur biodiesel into heating oil.”
Biodiesel is also renewable, biodegradable, nontoxic, and has a much higher flash point than traditional heating oil. This makes it a safer to handle, more environmentally friendly fuel.
The official vote to change the standard took place at the December 2014 ASTM meeting. At that meeting, wholesale fuel provider Amerigreen reported that it has more than 100,000 B20 customers. The company said that number is growing in part because Bioheat fuel customers see less maintenance than with conventional fuel oil.
“The new ASTM standard is very important to expanding the use of biodiesel,” Zurn said. “The oil heating industry is showing biodiesel is a very viable fuel source for heating oil. This just backs up what we as a Council have been talking about for years.”
Zurn said that Minnesota soybean farmers should be encouraged by the new ASTM standards and its potential for biodiesel demand.
“This is a known market that is growing,” he said. “They want it, and we are going to provide what we can to make sure we have enough biodiesel to meet the demand in the Northeast.”
What’s the next step?
With this accomplishment, Howell said work will now begin on the next level of research needed to secure official specifications for even higher blends of biodiesel in heating oil. This will likely extend to the use of pure biodiesel (B100), a stated goal of the oilheat industry.
“Brookhaven National Laboratory surveys of customers already using biodiesel blends not only showed similar or better experience than with traditional fuel oil, they also showed many already use B20 or higher blends with great success,” Howell said.
Traditional petroleum-based heating oil companies that have made the switch to Bioheat fuel agree.
“The technical data with this ballot for the new B6-B20 grade verified what we have known for years — that B20 made with high quality biodiesel works well,” said Seth Obetz, president of Pennsylvania-based Bioheat distributor Worley and Obetz. “We have marketed high quality B20 for 14 years and our customers see fewer problems with B20 than with conventional heating oil.”
The newly updated ASTM D396−15a “Standard Specification for Fuel Oils” can be downloaded at ASTM.org soon.
The National Biodiesel Board and NORA have invested millions of dollars in Bioheat fuel research, outreach and education through funding provided by oilheat dealers, biodiesel producers and the soybean checkoff program.
Biodiesel is an advanced biofuel made from sustainable resources such as soybean oil, recycled cooking oil and other fats and oils. With plants in nearly every state in the country, the industry first topped 1 billion gallons in 2011 and supports more than 62,000 jobs nationwide. It is the first and only EPA-designated Advanced Biofuel being produced on a commercial scale across the country.
—The National Biodiesel Board contributed to this story.