Industry accepts 4 ppm sulfate spec, calls for more testing

By | March 01, 2006
Citgo Petroleum Corp. is calling it an "unprecedented display of industry-wide cooperation"—and that's basically true—but the ethanol industry's acceptance of a new sulfate specification is not as much a show of acquiescence or compromise as a move to safeguard consumers while collaborative research continues.

A new specification applied to the ASTM International spec for ethanol (D 4806) would put the maximum level of sulfates in the renewable fuel at 4 parts per million (ppm). The proposed standard was approved in December by ASTM's Gasoline Subcommittee, and will go to its DO2 Subcommittee on Petroleum Products and Lubricants for final approval as early as June.

Citgo, which pushed for a strict 1 ppm sulfate spec last year, indicated in a Jan. 10 press release that it had worked with three other petroleum companies, two automakers and representatives of the ethanol industry to come to an agreement on the new spec. David Harvey, Citgo's manager of fuels quality, technology and technical services, said the sulfate limit is intended to help alleviate premature pump filter clogging at gasoline stations and prevent fuel injector problems in some automobiles.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is standing behind the specifications, but Kelly Davis, Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. quality manager and chair of the RFA Technical Committee, said the entire situation is "still fluid" and will play out over the next several months as more testing is completed. Davis said the ethanol industry agreed to move forward with the new spec "without knowing the root cause" of isolated incidents of fuel injector and fuel filter clogging. "Our work is certainly not done," Davis said. "It's a good start—and something that's in the best interest of consumers."

The good news: Davis said 96 percent of 84 U.S. ethanol plants that recently submitted ethanol samples met the 4 ppm sulfate spec. "That shows us the industry as a whole can meet this," she said. "This is where the path forward begins."

-Staff Report