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Beta Public Comment: Biodiesel, Glycerol, and Renewables Obligation

Beta Analytic submitted a public comment regarding OFGEM’s consultation document on biodiesel and glycerol.

Pertinent excerpts are:

Chapter 1, Question 2: Can any further evidence be provided to show that the source of the transferred hydrogen atoms within the glycerol cannot come from the methane used in the manufacture of the methanol?

Beta: We believe that this would not be possible. On the other hand, we believe that radiocarbon dating can be used to determine whether the glycerol is derived from fossil fuels, such as methanol made from fossil fuel methane. By analyzing the carbon atoms via radiocarbon dating of both the biodiesel and the glycerol produced in the manufacturing process, one can easily determine whether glycerol might be coming from fossil fuel-derived methane.

Radiocarbon dating is regularly used to determine the biomass percentage of biofuels such as biodiesel. Consequently, there is no reason why this method cannot be used to address whether glycerol is made from fossil fuel components. In fact, radiocarbon dating has been standardized as an analytical method called ASTM D6866 precisely for this type of determination.

Radiocarbon dating has been used for decades for dating archaeological artifacts. The same principles of dating (i.e. analysis of the carbon 14 atom) can also be used to measure the biomass component of materials. In effect, biomass contains a well characterized amount of carbon 14 that is easily distinguished from other materials such as fossil fuels that do not contain any carbon 14. Since the amount of carbon 14 in biomass is well known, a percentage of biomass carbon can be calculated easily from the overall carbon atoms in the sample.

Although ASTM D6866 is now used throughout the world to measure biomass carbon, the origins of the method are American. It was written at the request of the USDA to satisfy legislation requiring Federal agencies to give preferred procurement to manufacturers using the greatest amount of biomass in their products (per the Farm Security and Rural Investment act of 2002). It was quickly established that radiocarbon dating was the only viable accurate technique to make the determination of the biomass percentage. A working standard of radiocarbon dating for industrial use was completed in 2004 and is now cited in US Federal Law (7 CFR part 2902).

Our firm, Beta Analytic, has been in direct contact for the past year and half with OFGEM with regard to their Renewable Obligation Certificate program for Energy from Waste Combined Heat and Power plants. A study was commissioned on behalf of OFGEM by the Renewable Energy Association, with Beta Analytic, Columbia University and Fichtner’s participation to demonstrate the viability of radiocarbon dating for determining the biomass fraction of materials.

The study clearly shows that radiocarbon can accurately determine the biomass fraction of different materials. Furthermore, the study demonstrates that radiocarbon dating can be used to determine the energy produced from biomass. The same principles and findings in this report can be used to bolster the use of radiocarbon dating as a viable analytical method for verifying the biomass fraction of biodiesel and glycerol.

There are many other research articles similar to this one on the use of radiocarbon dating for biofuels.

Other Topics – Beta Analytic’s public comments on:
EPA Renewable Fuel Standard Program
EPA GHG Protocol Proposed Rule
EPA Proposed Protocol on Biofuels

This entry was posted on Monday, January 5th, 2009 and is filed under Beta Analytic Updates, Biogenic Carbon Testing of Biofuels .