Milestone Achieved in Advancing Global Use of Biofuels

Last week, the governments of the United States, Brazil and the European Union (EU) released an analysis of current biofuel specifications with the goal of facilitating expanded trade of these renewable energy sources. Spurred by increased market demands, the report was solicited by the U.S. and Brazilian governments and the European Commission (EC) on behalf of the EU, with the work conducted by an international group of fuel standards experts.

One potential obstacle to achieving more trade in the global biofuels market is confusion over differing — and sometimes conflicting — standards for characterizing the make-up and properties of biofuels. To clarify the current situation and identify potential roadblocks to improved compatibility, the U.S. and Brazilian governments and the EC convened a task force of experts from standards developing organizations (SDOs) to compare critical specifications in existing standards used globally (factors such as content, physical characteristics and contaminant levels that govern a fuel’s quality) for pure bioethanol and biodiesel.

After a six-month review process that considered thousands of pages of technical documents produced by ASTM International, the Brazilian Technical Standards Association (Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas or ABNT) and the European Committee for Standardization (Comité Europeén de Normalisation or CEN), last week the task force published the “White Paper on Internationally Compatible Biofuels Standards.

The White Paper placed the 16 specifications for ethanol and 24 for biodiesel into three categories regarding overall compatibility. The first category is similar (and can be considered compatible), the second category is different, but could be reconciled in a short period, and the third category is for standards that are irreconcilably different as they stand. Overall, the experts found that the bioethanol and biodiesel standards, and the specifications they contain, have very much in common and therefore should be able to overcome obstacles to biofuel trade.

The task force stated that 9 of the 16 ethanol specifications reviewed are “in alignment” and all but one of the remaining specifications could be aligned in the short term. For biodiesel, the report listed six specifications as compatible and suggests that many of the remaining differences could be handled by blending various types of biodiesel to create an end product that meets regional specifications for fuel quality and emissions.

In formal letters to representatives of the standards community, the U.S. and Brazilian governments and the EC on behalf of the EU applauded the efforts of the technical experts and encouraged the SDOs to consider the results of those efforts.

Fran Schrotter, senior vice president and chief operating officer at ANSI also commented on the report. “This was an incredible undertaking and represents the commitment of many individuals and organizations from both the private and public sectors. The standards and conformity assessment community must be diligent in its review of this report, and plan a course of action that will offer the greatest impact in meeting both market needs and biofuels policy goals,” she said.

Recognizing that many of the issues relating to variations in specifications can be traced to different measurement procedures and methods, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Brazil’s National Institute of Metrology, Standardization and Industrial Quality (Instituto Nacional de Metrologia, Normalização e Qualidade Industrial or INMETRO) have plans to collaborate on the development of joint measurement standards for bioethanol and biodiesel to complement the efforts of the SDOs.

“Initial efforts focus on creating certified reference materials to support development and testing of bioethanol and biodiesel, and analytical measurement methods for source identification, to determine if a fuel comes from a renewable or non-renewable source and the source of origin of biodiesel, e.g., soy, palm oil, animal fat, etc.,” said Mary Saunders, Chief, Standards Services Division, Technology Services, NIST. Saunders said that the reference materials should be completed by the end of 2008.

The report marks a major milestone in the global advancement of biofuels and could eventually lower market prices for biofuels.

“This important analysis will enable industry stakeholders to focus their efforts to enhance compatibility in biofuel standards, where practical, on those areas that will provide the greatest return. This effort can lead to lower biofuel costs for end users,” said Saunders.

Brazil already requires up to a 25 percent blend of ethanol with all gasoline that is sold. The EU has established a bioethanol blend mandate for its member states of 5.75 percent by 2010, and at least 10 percent of all vehicle fuels by 2020. In the United States, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 sets a 7.5 billion gallon goal for national biofuel consumption (usually ethanol) by 2012.

The United States, Brazil and the EU are all members of the International Biofuels Forum (IBF) and will continue to engage other IBF governments in future work. The named SDOs will also seek to involve their counterparts in the other IBF member countries — China, India and South Africa — in the effort to make biofuels standards compatible worldwide.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at

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