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International Biofuels Effort Seeks Fewer Barriers, More Trade

From NIST Tech Beat: February 5, 2008

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Contact: Michael E. Newman
301-975-3025

On Feb. 1, 2008, the governments of the United States, Brazil and the European Union (EU)—the world’s major producers of biofuels—released an analysis of current biofuel specifications with the goal of facilitating expanded trade of these renewable energy sources. Spurred by increased market demands, this report was solicited by the U.S. and Brazilian governments and the European Commission (EC) on behalf of the EU, with the work conducted by an international group of fuel standards experts.

Biofuels—derived from biological materials such as plants, plant oils, animal fat and microbial byproducts—are gaining popularity worldwide as both energy producers and users seek ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, move away from dependence on fossil fuels and invigorate economies through increased use of agricultural products. As a result, biofuels are becoming an increasingly important commodity in the global marketplace.

One potential obstacle to achieving greater efficiency in the global biofuels market is confusion over differing—and sometimes conflicting—standards for characterizing the make-up and properties of biofuels. To clarify the current situation and identify potential roadblocks to improved compatibility, the U.S. and Brazilian governments and the EC convened a task force of experts from standards developing organizations (SDOs) to compare critical specifications in existing standards used globally (factors such as content, physical characteristics and contaminant levels that govern a fuel’s quality) for pure bioethanol and biodiesel, two key biofuels.

The “White Paper on Internationally Compatible Biofuels Standards” was produced by the joint task force after a six-month review process that considered thousands of pages of technical documents produced by the major SDOs of the United States, Brazil and the EC.

Recognizing that many of the issues relating to variations in specifications can be traced to different measurement procedures and methods, two leading metrology institutes—the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Brazil’s National Institute of Metrology, Standardization and Industrial Quality (Instituto Nacional de Metrologia, Normalização e Qualidade Industrial or INMETRO)—are collaborating on the development of joint measurement standards for bioethanol and biodiesel to complement the efforts of the SDOs. Initial efforts focus on creating certified reference materials to support development and testing of bioethanol and biodiesel, and analytical measurement methods for source identification (to determine if a fuel comes from a renewable or non-renewable source and the source of origin of biodiesel, e.g., soy, palm oil, animal fat, etc.) by the end of 2008.

For more information and access to the complete 94-page report, see “International Effort Takes Critical Steps to Accelerate Growth of Global Biofuels Market.”