FAME is not (necessarily) the answer

January 31, 2013 |

By Pamela Serino
Director, Quality Tech Support Office
Defense Logistics Agency Energy

In this note, Ms,. Serino is responding to DNV: biofuels are key to meeting marine emissions targets.

I agree that biofuels are the key and the easiest way forward at this time.  A mandate in all countries to go to ULSD marine fuel would be my first step to cleaner fuels and lower emissions as many nations still burn very high sulfur fuels (1000-5000 ppm).  However, the one concern I have on biofuels is the push to specifically use Biodiesel.

The USCG has been lifting some biodiesel in US states that mandate low percentages, and have experienced grave quality issues.  Biodiesel (FAME) is not the way to go for marine fuels.  In addition, as more and more diesel fuel contains FAME, there is greater and greater risk for cross contamination into the jet fuel stream.

This occurs in multi-product pipelines, water born vessels, trucks and other fuel distribution methods.  Heathrow Airport was almost closed several years ago due to cross contamination, and the CEPS pipeline in Europe took three years to blend off FAME contaminated jet fuel.

All this being said, we need to focus on the second generation biofuels (Hydrotreated Esters and Fatty Acids or HEFA) and even an FT type fuel from Natural Gas with a low percentage of bio-feedstock will result in lower GHG emissions.  I know the NBB is behind every push for continued and increased FAME use, but there are problems with many vessels in using that product.  Navy vessels worldwide are not permitted to use FAME.

For example, the US Navy vessels use water in their tanks for ballast and have centrifugal purifiers onboard to separate the fuel and water.  FAME causes a huge emulsion and does not permit the separation to take place.  FAME is corrosive to metal surfaces once it mixes with any water and falls out.  The largest users of biodiesel within the US are the Military and USCG.

FAMEWe have used B20 in ground vehicles for 14 years and have seen continuous issues with the quality and cold water temperatures.  I have included a photo of the USCG issue in Duluth Minnesota where we lifted only a 2% blend of FAME.  The microbial growth enabled the vessel to operate.  We had to empty the fuel tanks, clean them, and provide new FAME free fuel. We now have to get the diesel fuel prior to the mandatory blend so that we do not continue to see these quality issues.  Please note that this was a mere 2% blend.

My office has recently joined ISO, since their specification is the one we use commercially, in order to fight the mandatory use of biodiesel globally.  We need to get past the lobbying of the NBB and do the right thing to accomplish the same goals; cleaner fuel, lower cost without subsidies, and better quality. These same feedstocks can be used to make a better quality fuel derived through your typical hydorprocessing refinery and can be used in the current distribution system.

Every new product lends itself to better technology over time.  The first gen biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) were a great first step, but just like “Apple” products, and other technologies, improvements are made with time.

It is time to move forward to the second and third generation of biofuels.

 

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