Setting a Standard for Triglycerides as Fuel

By Chuck Neece, FUMPA Biofuels

The use of triglycerides as fuel goes back to biblical times when lamps used vegetable oil or animal fats as a fuel. Into the 1800s, whale oil was a valued component of the fishing industry for lamp lighting in homes near coastal waters. These oils were considered too valuable for use for heating since wood, peat, or coal were considered so plentiful and inexpensive that they became the preferred fuel for heating of homes.

The discovery of liquid petroleum products and the development of pipeline transportation changed the economies and along with natural gas became the primary components of direct and indirect heat and light for the twentieth century. It took a global conflict to renew interest in triglycerides as fuel, followed by multiple global economic crises to change public opinion from a passing interest to a need for regulatory approvals. Subsequently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began the regulation of air and water quality and was given legal authority on emissions requirements over commercial and industrial businesses. Greater interest in air and water quality was paralleled in countries around the world.

Extensive work done by individual Fats and Protein Research Foundation (FPRF) members in the late 1990s to offset the high prices of fuels for burners and the relative low prices for rendered fats and oils began a new era in triglyceride fuels. These efforts to place a floor price on fats, oils, and greases based on the British thermal unit, or BTU, values were the key to survival in the rendering industry and the basis for new research. Several companies researched their equipment, state and federal laws on permits, and stack emissions and followed up with testing to prove the value of those fuels for use in boilers. That data was used to show regulatory compliance individually.

Subsequently in 2002, three entities combined resources for an extensive test run under controlled circumstances. This was jointly funded by the Poultry Protein and Fat Council of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, the University of Georgia, and FPRF. The University of Georgia fueled their boilers through an entire heating season to understand the longer term effects on equipment. That study, published in the public domain, provided validity and practical information for additional businesses to look beyond the waste petroleum burners for additional undervalued products to offset high fuel costs. The issue still remained that it was largely driven by individual businesses willing to proceed with the required testing for their circumstance, equipment, and the product available in their area. The approvals for use were limited to the range of specification of fats, oils, and greases actually used in the testing. Valuable follow-up research contributions to provide appropriate credibility to the research done by individual companies came from many areas, including the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS), U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, and Department of Energy’s National Research Energy Laboratory.

This set up the need for industrial boiler equipment that can be tested and approved for the fuels the owner intends to burn. Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and subsequent industrial insurers desired to have descriptions and specifications set for these triglyceride fuels to enable them to pre-test and certify those burners and equipment for that purpose. ASTM International agreed to begin the process of reviewing and proposing standards for a product category for triglyceride fuels.

The product category was determined to fall under the control of recycled products, Subcommittee P, and was assigned to a working group for definition in 2008 at the ASTM meeting in Arizona. It was determined by the working group that general standards existed and with the data available, the specifications could be set for an introductory product category. Since there is extensive data from the AOCS and members of the National Renderers Association on yellow grease, the specifications of those products are being used as the platform to gain recognition of the product for burner fuels. Companies who have tested and been approved to use triglyceride fuels in their burners can submit data on the specifications of the product as validation for the creation of the standards.

While additional rendered products or product classifications might have limited experience or anecdotal experience, it is important that there are fully documented product classifications setting standards referenced as fit for purpose. These standards must apply to a large range of types of equipment and manufacturers to be considered acceptable for consensus approval. The success of an individual specification in only one or two types of equipment will not convince the larger body of ASTM to approve that specification.

An example of an acceptable statement of scope for the need and defense of a standard might be stated as follows:

“This standard is the result of a request from the Used Oil Management Association (a U.S. trade group) to develop a specification that defines and classifies triglyceride burner fuels. At the time of the request, high energy prices and demand for renewable burner fuels were driving the increased use of innovative fuels intended for use in small industrial and commercial heating systems and for which standards did not exist. In particular, industrial users were rewriting air permits to include yellow grease as a fuel and small commercial operations were using triglycerides for fuel.

“This standard is intended to define triglyceride fuels for regulators; provide a trading standard for fuel processors, buyers, and sellers; and standardize these fuel types for heating and other equipment manufacturers.”

It is important to understand the function of ASTM – they do not approve or disapprove of any material, product, process, etc. They do set standards for uniform evaluation of those materials, products, and processes for open marketplace trade. The standards are voluntary; they only become mandatory when cited in regulation or are specified in commercial contractual transactions. Standards are developed and established using consensus principles involving a balance of stakeholders. The rules for voting balance are that the number of general interest members plus users plus consumers must be greater than the number of producers in the makeup of main committees or subcommittees. Unofficial voting members are not counted in this balance; the votes at each ballot are not required to be balanced, as long as the available and active membership is balanced. ASTM members must be active and voting or they are dropped from membership and replaced to maintain the appropriate balance to offset competing interests.

Producing companies may have more than one member attend the meetings and act as unofficial voting members who can participate in all meetings, but may not vote in ballot adjudication, except if they carry the voting member’s proxy specific to that subcommittee or main committee. Each producer entity is only allowed one voting member, but with multiple meetings taking place at the same time, it is normal to have multiple non-voting members attend to represent a company’s interests.

Fuel specifications are needed to standardize emerging triglyceride-based fuels and to support UL specifications for equipment using these fuels. Additionally, without a system to classify and characterize triglyceride fuels, some states are treating these fuels as waste oil resulting in additional permit requirements and administration burdens to enable burning. This work has been introduced to address these concerns by providing a standardized system of categorizing these fuels for use in commercial and industrial burners and boilers within the limits of the scope.

As a result, the ASTM working group intended to present to the subcommittee members for a vote that closed September 23, 2010, a fully developed specification for triglyceride burner fuels with the intent of taking this specification to the main committee in December for official acceptance. Once this specification is accepted, the members anticipate that additional triglyceride products will be tested and specifications developed for subsequent approval. There is a great interest in setting standards for brown grease and other categories after the approval of the first standard involving primarily yellow greases is approved.

October 2010 RENDER | back