Ensuring consumer’s have a high level of confidence in the fuel they purchase is
a "top" priority for Washington State. Washington State Department of Agriculture
(WSDA) Weights and Measures Division has developed a set of fuel quality and labeling
rules for biodiesel and ethanol fuel. These rules were developed following an extensive
outreach effort that involved consumers, industry, research groups and governmental
agencies. The rules are based on national ASTM and NIST standards for fuel quality
and product labeling and are posted at the WSDA website. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM)
is the recognized standard-setting body for fuels and additives in the United States.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the federal agency
that develops and promotes measurement, standards, and technology. The Weights and
Measures Division has also established a quality assurance and monitoring program
which includes on-going field testing and field audits of biofuels sold in Washington.
Washington State biodiesel standards
Biodiesel is chemically referred to as a Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME). It is produced
by processing raw vegetable oil or animal fats through a chemical process called
transesterification. The Washington State Department of Agriculture adoption of
biodiesel regulation "by rule" became effective March 21, 2007. These standards
can be found at
WSDA’s Motor Fuel Standards website. The final rules are based on NIST Handbook
130 Uniform Engine Fuels, Petroleum Products, and Automotive Lubricants Regulation,
with modifications to accommodate statutory requirements. For biodiesel (as well
as fuel method of sale requirements), it is expected that NIST Handbook 130 will be adopted annually. WSDA has also
incorporated biofuel sampling and testing into its existing Motor Fuel Quality Program.
The program is sampling fuels throughout the distribution chain, from producer to
retailer. The program goals are to assess the quality of fuels sold in Washington
State, provide consumers with assurance of quality fuels, and establish consistent
regulation for industry.
In addition to setting biodiesel quality standards, the WSDA has established
labeling requirements for biodiesel pumps. Biodiesel must be labeled as
- Retail dispensers of biodiesel blends containing no less than 2% and no more than
5% biodiesel must be labeled “Contains up to 5% Biodiesel”.
- Retail dispensers containing less than 2% biodiesel must not be labeled as dispensing
biodiesel or biodiesel blends.
- Biodiesel blends above 5% must be labeled with the volume percentage of biodiesel.
- The label must be placed in the upper 50% of the dispenser front panel in a position
clear and conspicuous from the drivers’ position.
- The text on the label must be a type at least 1/2 inch in height and 1/16 inch in
width with the capital letter “B” followed by the volume percentage of biodiesel
and ending with the words “Biodiesel” or “Biodiesel Blend”, whichever is appropriate.
Biodiesel fuel quality
The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) maintains a fuel quality page on their website that provides useful
information on the use and handling of biodiesel. Information on state fuel quality
regulations, national ASTM and NIST standards and current industry actions on fuel
quality can be viewed here. The National Renewable Energy Labs has also published
a useful guidebook entitled Biodiesel Handling and Use Guidelines. This guidebook
provides a comprehensive discussion of using biodiesel as a vehicle fuel and discusses
biodiesel health and safety issues, as well as engine warranty concerns.
Locally, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) is conducting a study investigating
biodiesel fuel quality issues, and has contracted with Washington State University
and Imperium Fuels to complete this work. The study is focused on biodiesel use
State Ferries. [>
Beyond local and state efforts to ensure quality fuel for consumers, the biodiesel
industry as a whole is continually working to improve biodiesel standards to reflect
real world operations and use. As of October, 2008 ASTM’s D02 Main Committee has
approved a trio of ASTM specifications for biodiesel blends which should significantly
bolster automaker support and consumer demand for biodiesel. The three changes are:
- Changes to the existing B100 biodiesel blend stock specification (ASTM D6751) including
a cold filtration test which should assure buyers that B100 won’t contain certain
precipitates that can cause filter plugging in cold weather
- Finished specifications to include up to 5% biodiesel (B5) in the conventional petrodiesel
specification (ASTM D975)
- A new specification for blends of between 6 percent biodiesel (B6) to 20 percent
biodiesel (B20) for on and off road diesel.
The adoption of these new fuel quality standards is important, particularly the
passage of a B20 fuel blend specification. Some companies, such as Chrysler LLC,
had stated that the need for that specification was the single greatest hurdle preventing
their full-scale acceptance of B20 use in their diesel vehicles. A copy of the current
ASTM D6751-07be1 standards can be obtained at
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard, renewable
fuels are defined as motor vehicle fuels produced from plant or animal products
or wastes. Within this definition, two distinct forms of diesel fuel are specified:
biodiesel and renewable diesel. Each is defined according to the process by which
it is produced. EPA defines renewable diesel as “…diesel fuel derived from biomass
(as defined in section 45K(c)(3)) using a thermal depolymerization process which
meets –(A) the registration requirements for fuels and fuel additives established
by the Environmental Protection Agency under section 211 of the Clean Air Act (42
U.S.C. 7545), and (B) the requirements of the American Society of Testing and Materials
D975 or D396.”
At this time, there is no universally accepted definition or technical standard
that exists for renewable diesel. There are multiple technologies that produce a
product that has been called “renewable diesel” fuel. While some of these technologies
are in commercial production, others are still in the research and development phase,
years away from producing commercially available product. The different technologies
use widely different feedstocks, including wood biomass, slaughterhouse waste, tallow,
and recycled or virgin vegetable oil.
One commonality of these fuels is that they are not biodiesel, which is defined
in Washington State law as “the monoalkyl esters of long chain fatty acids derived
from plant or animal matter that meet the registration requirements for fuels and
fuel additives established by the federal environmental protection agency and standards
established by the American society of testing and materials.” Biodiesel is produced
via a reaction of vegetable oil or animal fat with an alcohol (usually methanol)
and a catalyst. Biodiesel is chemically distinct from petroleum diesel and has a
separate ASTM standard (D6751), which specifies the standard for biodiesel for use
as a blend component with petroleum diesel. Biodiesel has passed the EPA Tier I
and Tier II health-effects testing, and is registered with the EPA as a fuel additive.
Renewable diesel is produced through other chemical processes and is commonly referred
to as non-esterified renewable diesel (NERD). The most advanced of these alternatives
is produced through hydrotreating, a process which is being utilized in today’s
petroleum refineries. During this process hydrogen replaces other atoms such as
sulfur, oxygen and nitrogen and converts the oil’s triglyceride molecules into paraffinic
hydrocarbons. While existing petroleum refineries could blend the renewable and
petroleum fuels during the hydrotreating process to create a renewable diesel blend,
stand alone facilities can produce 100 percent renewable diesel to be used directly
or to be blended with petroleum diesel. Renewable diesel is considered substantially
similar to conventional diesel and is expected to fall under the ASTM specifications
for diesel fuel. The report
“Renewable Diesel Technology” was completed for the Washington State Biofuels
Committee and outlines the current state of renewable diesel technology in the US.
On September 23, 2008, the U.S. Senate voted to renew a one year extension for renewable
energy tax credits worth $18 billion dollars. The legislation enacts a $1 per gallon
credit for biodiesel production, but the “renewable diesel” made from waste fat,
or tallow, would only be eligible for a 50 cent per gallon credit. Some renewable
fuel manufacturers, such as ConocoPhillips, have suggested that without the full
$1 per gallon credit for making “renewable diesel”, their proposed projects may
not be economical.
Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO)
Straight vegetable oil (SVO), or pure plant oil (PPO), can be used as a fuel in
diesel engines. However, it is more viscous (thicker) than diesel or biodiesel fuel,
and typically requires preheating prior to combustion. Problems associated with
SVO as a fuel include incomplete combustion and carbonization, which can result
in pre-mature engine failure.
SVO use in the US has been limited. One of the major barriers to its use is that
SVO is not registered as a “fuel” or “fuel additive” with the US Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) as per USC 42, Chapter 85, Subchapter II, Part A, Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards.
In short, EPA regulations require that in order for a fuel to enter commerce, it
has to pass Tier I & II environmental and emissions testing, a very expensive undertaking.
To date, no SVO products have completed this testing and received approval from
In addition, SVO operations require aftermarket conversion of the vehicle (typically
the addition of a heat exchanger and some other fuel delivery system modifications).
Aftermarket conversions fall under EPA regulation “Mobile
Source Enforcement Memorandum 1A: Revised Tampering Enforcement Policy for Alternative
Fuel Conversions”. This rule was passed to ensure that the modifications
do not cause an increase in emissions compared to the baseline system and fuel.
Unless the conversion equipment has been approved by EPA, converting a vehicle to
SVO operations constitutes after-market tampering. No SVO conversion equipment manufacturer
has received EPA certification at this time.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture’s adoption of ethanol regulations
"by rule" became effective on March 21, 2007. The new rules are posted at the Department
Motor Fuel Standards website. The final rules are based on NIST Handbook 130 Uniform Engine Fuels, Petroleum Products,
and Automotive Lubricants Regulation, with modifications to accommodate statutory
requirements. The ASTM standards for ethanol are:
- Ethanol. - intended for blending with gasoline shall meet the most recent version
of ASTM D 4806, "Standard Specification for Denatured Fuel Ethanol for Blending
with Gasolines for Use as Automotive Spark-Ignition Engine Fuel."
- E85 Fuel Ethanol. - shall meet the most recent version of ASTM D 5798, "Standard
Specification for Fuel Ethanol (Ed75-Ed85) for Automotive Spark-Ignition Engines."
The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) has developed ethanol fuel
specifications ASTM D5798-99 Standard Specification for Fuel Ethanol for Automotive
Spark-Ignition Engines to ensure proper starting, operation, and safety. The minimum
commercial standards for ethanol fuel can be found in the Department of Energy publication-
for Handling, Storing, and Dispensing E85.
The majority of ethanol fuel consumed in Washington State is sold as E10, which
is a blend of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. E10, or gasohol, is approved for use
in all gasoline vehicles, and has been used for many years across the nation both
to improve air quality and to increase gasoline’s performance.
E10, and other low level blends, are classified as "substantially similar"
to gasoline by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meaning they can
be used legally in any gasoline-powered vehicle.
E85 fuel, which
is composed of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, is also an approved motor fuel by EPA
and is sold in Washington State. However, unlike E10, E85 can only be used in Flexible Fueled
Vehicles (FFVs). The Washington State Department of Agriculture has developed
a set of guidelines for retailers interested in dispensing E85 fuel to Washington
consumers. These guidelines are contained in the brochure
E85 Dispenser Guidelines.
Any ethanol/gasoline blends between E10 (10% ethanol - 90% gasoline) and E85 (75%
- 85% ethanol and 15% - 25% gasoline) fuel ethanol are prohibited from sale and
are not permitted by federal law. Thus, ethanol/gasoline blends such as “E20,”“E30,”
or other ratios are not permitted for sale at this time. However, significant studies
underway evaluating the use of mid-level ethanol blends. Early indications are that
these blends may be suitable for use in conventional gasoline powered cars.
Small engine ethanol use
Two-stroke engines should experience little or no decrease in performance due to
gasoline fuels containing up to 10-percent ethanol. However, ethanol is hygroscopic
(it has an attraction for water) and will more readily mix with water than with
gasoline. Therefore, marine users should make sure that their fuel tanks are free
of water prior to fueling to minimize the possibility of phase separation and potential
filter plugging or even engine damage. It is also best to maintain a full tank of
fuel when the engine is not in use. This will reduce the void space above the fuel
and will reduce the flow of air in and out of the tank with changes in temperature,
thereby reducing condensation on the internal walls of the tank and limiting exposure
of the ethanol in the fuel to humidity and condensation.
Ethanol blend fuels can also act as a solvent and may loosen rust and debris that
might lay undisturbed in fuel systems. Loose debris can plug filters and interfere
with engine operation. It is recommended that fuel filters be inspected regularly
when first using an ethanol blend and that spare filters are readily available in
case replacement is needed. Similarly, ethanol blends can be detrimental to some
older plastic and rubber materials that might not be affected by gasoline alone.
If an engine is a 1990 or older model, inspections of all fuel-system components
are advised to identify any signs of leakage, softening, hardening, swelling or
corrosion. If any sign of leakage or deterioration is observed, replacement of the
affected components is necessary. For older engines it may be advisable to check
with your engine manufacturer to determine component compatibility with ethanol
Fiberglass tanks manufactured prior to 1991 may not be compatible with gasoline
containing ethanol. It has been reported that, in the presence of ethanol, some
resins may be drawn out of fiberglass and carried into the engine where severe damage
could occur. If an older fiberglass tank is used, check with the manufacturer to
determine if gasoline with ethanol can be safely used.
On-going Weights and Measures Issues
The WSDA Weights and Measures division is continuing to work on fuel quality, labeling
and consumer education issues as biofuels are rolled out in response to the state
Renewable Fuels Standard
(RFS). In addition to setting fuel quality and labeling standards, WSDA is conducting
field testing of biofuels. These tests help ensure that Washington State consumers
are getting the highest quality fuel at the blend rate specified on the dispenser.
Some of the current WSDA Weights and Measures biofuel activities are noted below.
- W&M began initial biofuels quality testing and label assessment in May 2007. Sampling/testing
levels will continue to ramp up as methods/protocols are developed, biofuels locations
identified, and inspectors become more experienced.
- W&M began industry education and outreach efforts in the fall of 2007 to help ensure
proper fuel dispenser labeling and the availability of high quality fuels.
- Develop guidelines for E-85 pumps until there are pumps available that have the
National Type Evaluation Program and UL certificates.
WSDA Biofuels Standards Program
EPA- Renewable Fuels
National Biodiesel Board
National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition
U.S. Department of Energy
Alternative Fuel Data Center
Handling and Use Guidelines
for Handling, Storing and Dispensing E-85
Renewable Fuels Association
Boat U.S. Ethanol Fact Sheets