Sludge tanks biodiesel sales
ST. PAUL - Minnesota biodiesel sales are being suspended for the second time in two months. Truck drivers across the state say fuel filters are being clogged with black sludge or wax. They also are reporting other fuel problems as the state nears...
ST. PAUL - Minnesota biodiesel sales are being suspended for the second time in two months.
Truck drivers across the state say fuel filters are being clogged with black sludge or wax. They also are reporting other fuel problems as the state nears the three-month anniversary of mandating that the soybean product be blended with most diesel sold the in the state.
More than a week ago, the Minnesota Trucking Association asked that state officials stop enforcing the law requiring biodiesel until the problem could be solved. Within hours after the Minnesota Biodiesel Council asked Gov. Tim Pawlenty the same thing on Friday, the Commerce Department announced it would not enforce the law until Jan. 13.
"This variance is being granted in order to allow fuel producing and distributing industries time to identify and remove any product that may be out of specification," Deputy Commerce Commissioner Ed Garvey wrote to firms dealing with biodiesel.
Garvey's order means distributors and retailers may sell straight diesel fuel, without biodiesel blended in, although some will continue to sell the blend.
In an interview, Garvey said glycerin in the fuel appears to be causing the problem, but state and industry tests have yet to show why.
Tests by Flint Hills Resources, which produces half of the gasoline and diesel sold in Minnesota, show high levels of glycerin, a fatty acid, could be the culprit.
"We hadn't seen this before, and the thing that was different was biodiesel this year," John Hofland of Flint Hills said.
The company found a source for biodiesel with lower glycerin levels; and plans to sell that in the Twin Cities. However, much of Flint Hills' sales outside the Twin Cities will be pure diesel because its lease arrangements do not allow the company to pick a biodiesel supplier.
Problems are sporadic across the state and in different weather conditions, Garvey said. Trucking Association President John Hausladen said truckers reported problems with fuel bought from a variety of sources.
The trucking group surveyed its members, and 56 of 90 who responded reported plugged fuel filters. Nearly half of them said the problem has occurred off and on all fall, although Hausladen said complaints increased when temperatures fell earlier this month.
Diesel fuel, even without biodiesel, can be difficult to use in cold weather.
Hausladen said problems trucking firms report go beyond clogged fuel filters.
"We have had members report film floating on top of their storage tanks," he said, as well as a growth of some type on the side of tanks and waxy substances in the fuel.
The Legislature, with Pawlenty's backing, mandated that most diesel fuel sold contain 2 percent biodiesel, which in Minnesota usually comes from soybeans.
The mandate started Sept. 29. A month later, the state temporarily suspended enforcement of the law when some fuel did not meet state specifications, but Garvey said that appears to have been a different problem than the latest complaints.
The Biodiesel Council told Pawlenty on Friday that it wanted time to research the fuel problem.
"We feel very strongly that biodiesel that does not meet the required standards has no place in the marketplace," council Chairman Don Louwagie wrote to the governor.
Louwagie said the biodiesel industry thinks the problems are due to "normal cold weather diesel performance traits."
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