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Improving the Global Trade for Biofuels

A government-led Tripartite Task Force has recently completed a review of existing bioethanol and biodiesel standards to identify where greater compatibility could be achieved in support of the global commoditization of biofuels.

Commissioned by the governments of the United States, the European Commission and Brazil in June 2007, the Task Force reviewed thousands of pages of technical documents produced by ASTM International, the European Committee for Normalization (CEN) and the Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas (ABNT). The report was completed in December 2007. Those close to the initiative defined this as a “massive multi-lingual undertaking” for the group of private- and public-sector experts to complete in a six-month period.

An important alternative to fossil fuels and a key component in the diversification of the global energy infrastructure, biofuels have already become a commodity for cross-border trade. Market-driven standards are currently enabling a significant volume of this trade. The objective of the Tripartite Task Force was to further enhance alignment among existing biofuels standards for the purpose of expanding global biofuels markets.

The “White Paper on Internationally Compatible Biofuels Standards” was transmitted on Wednesday, January 30, 2008, by the three governments for comment by the standards organizations ASTM International, CEN, and ABNT. The report was also submitted to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) with a request that it be made publicly available for review and comment by any other interested members of the standards and conformity assessment community; it was distributed today to members of the ANSI Biofuels Standards Coordination Panel (ANSI-BSP).

Included in the report is a definitive list of pure liquid biofuel specifications that are similar; specifications with significant, but alignable differences; and specifications where fundamental differences prevent bridging in the foreseeable future.

Findings indicated that nine (9) of the sixteen (16) bioethanol specifications are already quite closely aligned; at present, none of the existing specifications present an impediment to global trade.

The report also found that, while biodiesel specifications in the U.S. and Brazil share several commonalities, EU specifications differ significantly. Six (6) specifications were identified as compatible. Experts did observe, however, that blending various types of biodiesel will provide an end product that can meet regional specifications. Divergent regional and national regulations (e.g., fuel quality, emissions, feedstocks, etc.) presented the most significant barriers to pure biodiesel harmonization activities.

The Tripartite Task Force also observed that differing measurement procedures and methods have been inhibiting the alignment of regional specifications.

The national metrology institutes of Brazil and the United States are working together to develop joint measurement standards that will complement the work of the standards bodies in supporting testing and fuel development, facilitating enhanced compatibility and lowering testing costs.

Representatives of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the national metrology institute for the United States, indicated that the certified reference materials and analytical measurement methods for source identification are expected by the end of 2008.

The governments of the U.S., EU, and Brazil encouraged ongoing efforts to further cross-border cooperation and applauded the work of the technical experts involved in development of the report. Those close to the effort observed that a collegial working relationship developed between the private and public sector experts in each region and that the experts gained a better understanding of the reasons behind regional differences. This understanding is seen as a building block that will help to promote alignment and mitigate divergence among evolving standards and specifications.

Moving forward, the standards organizations have been encouraged to consider the result of the Tripartite Task Force’s efforts and to apply a priority-based approach to current and future standards development and maintenance activities.

“ANSI adds its congratulations to the experts that committed so much time and effort to this initiative,” said Fran Schrotter, ANSI senior vice president and chief operating officer. “This was an incredible undertaking and represents the commitment of many individuals and organizations from both the private and public sectors. The standards and conformity assessment community must be diligent in its review of this report, and plan a course of action that will offer the greatest impact in meeting both market needs and biofuels policy goals.”

The report will also be transmitted for consideration and appropriate action by the International Biofuels Forum, an international initiative for information sharing and other efforts linking key producers and consumers of biofuels (Brazil, China, India, South Africa, the United States, and the European Union) to support the international trading of biofuels as a commodity.

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