Overlooked by both the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) in Whitehall and the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment (DETI) at Stormont, it’s fair to say the UK’s bio heating oil ambitions remain unfulfilled. That’s despite a series of successful field trials in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Across the pond however and ASTM International, an organisation which sets industry led standards for fuels and lubricants, has approved performance specifications for blends of bio heating oil containing between 6% and 20% biodiesel. The move is described as ‘a significant leap forward’ in the industry effort to boost the percentage of cleaner burning biodiesel that homeowners and building managers use in heating oil equipment in the USA.
The updated ASTM D396 Standard Specification for Fuel Oils, is expected to be published for widespread use by February. The mixture of biodiesel and heating oil is marketed as Bioheat –a registered trademark.
John Huber, President of the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) says, “The fuel oil industry is reinventing itself as a 21st century fuel by moving to higher blends of low carbon biodiesel and near-zero sulfur levels across the board.”
Unlike the UK, where jobs are being lost as fuel distributors exit the heating oil industry, the likely bio heating oil renaissance is the USA, is helping to protect existing jobs and create new jobs. Like the UK, many heating oil distributors are small, family-owned businesses, but unlike the UK, US fuel distributors can now provide their customers with what Mr. Huber describes as a “desirable, new product”.
“Bioheat gives consumers the choice to use a clean, domestically produced fuel without having to invest in an expensive natural gas system,” says Paul Nazzaro, who leads the National Biodiesel Board’s Bioheat Outreach Programme. “Setting these performance specs for increased biodiesel levels is hugely significant, because it opens the door for innovation in the heating oil industry and will allow more consumers to enjoy the full benefits of this fuel in their homes and businesses.”
Mr. Nazzaro adds that environmentally speaking, a 20% blend of biodiesel puts Bioheat on par with natural gas, the biggest competitor to heating oil in the USA, while higher biodiesel levels up to 100% biodiesel could reduce the carbon footprint of Bioheat up to 80% compared to traditional fuel oil.
The passage of 5% biodiesel into the No. 1 and No. 2 grades of ASTM D396 occurred in 2008 and the fuel already enjoys widespread availability. During the last 6 years, the Bioheat Technical Steering Committee, comprised of industry technical experts and led by NORA and NBB, developed a tremendous amount of data that formed the basis for the ballot. The vote to pass the ballot came last week at the semi-annual meeting of the ASTM Committee D02 on Petroleum Products.
“The technical data with this ballot for the new B6-B20 grade verified what we have known for years—B20 made with high quality biodiesel works well,” said Seth Obetz, President of Pennsylvania-based Bioheat distributor Worley & Obetz. “We have been marketing high quality B20 for 14 years and our customers see fewer problems with B20 than with conventional heating oil.”
Wholesale fuel provider Amerigreen reported at the ASTM meeting that it has more than 100,000 B20 customers and the company claims that number is growing all the time, in part because Bioheat customers see less maintenance than with conventional fuel oil.