Field experience with Bioheat fuel (blended heating oil and biodiesel) has been overwhelmingly positive. A recent service organization survey conducted by NORA and Brookhaven National Laboratory observed that some 35,000 buildings are currently using Bioheat containing more than 5 percent biodiesel with no issues.
It is important to note that biodiesel is a specific product that meets ASTM D6751 specifications and has well-established product characteristics designed to ensure that it can be safely and efficiently blended into heating oil and diesel. Biodiesel meets detailed fuel property specifications within ASTM D6751. ASTM consists of experts from petroleum companies, equipment manufacturers and research organizations. It has defined biodiesel and blends to be fit for use in home heating systems and diesel engines. In-spec biodiesel has undergone rigorous material compatibility, combustion, lubricity, field testing, and stability studies as part of the long ASTM approval process.
Unlike biodiesel, the term biofuel is general and refers to any fuel derived from a plant or tree. Olive oil, lard, or restaurant grease are all potential biofuels. None are suitable for use in a heating system. For a heating oil marketer to be ready for the next generation of fuel, the product must be a blend of heating oil and ASTM 6751 biodiesel.
Winter operability is essential in serving oilheat’s customers. Biodiesel blends can have a significant impact as the feedstock affects its winter characteristics. Wholesale suppliers and retail marketers need to be sure the product they sell is right for the temperatures at which it will be stored at and used. An outside tank in Maine may need a different product than an indoor tank.
Currently, fuel marketers manage their respective pour point requirements independently through collaboration with competent fuel additive organizations by introducing pour point depressants at the time of blending or sale.
This allows the fuel to perform at the lowest ambient temperatures associated with the marketer’s footprint. This collaboration has been the basis of how fuel marketers keep their liquid fuels balanced and flowing, ensuring optimal winter performance. Being mindful of the operability specification when purchasing fuel and optimizing it to meet the temperatures in which it will operate is the marketer’s responsibility’with or without biodiesel blends. If these characteristics are handled appropriately, trucks, tanks and lines do not need to be heated.
Free water and microbial contamination in the fuel is an issue that the industry has wrestled for decades. If tanks are left to collect water, the water will respond to temperatures within the tank. Vigilance in managing your tanks and those of your customers is of paramount importance. With water in fuel of any type (gasoline, diesel, heating oil, biodiesel and biodiesel blends), the fuel may fall victim to microbial contamination. Exercising a well thought-out tank management program is essential.
To prevent fuel marketers from buying and selling biofuels that do not meet ASTM specifications (e.g., straight cooking oil), the National Biodiesel Board and Oilheating industry state leadership groups have worked exhaustively over the past decade to help train the marketplace about the difference between raw vegetable oil or generic biofuels and ASTM D6751 biodiesel. There may be financial incentives for blending raw vegetable oils or non-ASTM specified fuels. Unfortunately, there is a small percentage (hopefully a very small percentage) of these individuals willing trade-off the risk of selling off-spec product for a pricing advantage. The NBB, NORA and the state association can only inform those who wish to know the facts. With these facts, we hope that the industry understands the negative fallout associated with being buyers and sellers of anything less than ASTM grade fuels.
Our home heating systems are well-designed and robust. However, they cannot operate reliably if attempts are made to operate these systems with bad fuels. The biodiesel industry recognizes that their reputation can be damaged by the marketing of low quality, off-spec fuels and they have put great effort into developing programs such as the BQ-9000 Quality Assurance program to address this.