Biodiesel law sputters at the gun

Minnesota State Roundup

Published March 1, 2006  | March 2006 issue

Just a few months after its initiation, a new state-led biodiesel program is backfiring, thanks to supply disruptions and reports that trucks are coughing on the new concoction.

This past fall, Minnesota became the only state in the nation to mandate that all retail diesel fuel include 2 percent biodiesel, which is made from soybeans. About one month later, the state temporarily suspended the rule after concerns were raised that the fuel didn't meet quality standards. Neither refiners nor the state had a contingency plan for supply disruptions, and some diesel stations had to close. To make matters worse for truckers, the supply disruption has also pushed diesel prices higher in the state.

Simultaneously, truckers started experiencing engine problems with the onset of colder weather, and specifically with clogged fuel filters. In a survey of 90 members by the Minnesota Trucking Association, close to two-thirds reported fuel filter problems. Similar problems have been reported by Wisconsin truckers buying fuel across the border.

The state first responded in November by temporarily suspending the mandatory biodiesel law, and extending the suspension in December and again in January, with the hope that biodiesel makers and fuel refiners can pinpoint the problem and remove any bad biodiesel from the distribution system if necessary.

Ronald A. Wirtz