Regulators threaten to mandate ULSD [unltra-low sulphur diesel] lubricity limit, bypass ASTM; Original Equipment Makers threaten walkout over voting scheme

Regulators threaten to mandate ULSD [unltra-low sulphur diesel] lubricity limit, bypass ASTM; Original Equipment Makers threaten walkout over voting scheme

Jack Peckham

Los Angeles — California Air Resources Board (CARB) is about to convene a workshop in January or February to come up with mandatory lubricity standards for ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD), potentially triggering copy-cat moves by other states and possibly U.S. EPA.

Reason: American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM) is floundering in its efforts to come up with an industry consensus standard that — unlike government regulations — could more easily be adjusted in future as better lubricity test methods emerge, and as more field data with ULSD become available.

CARB staff could unveil a formal proposal by May, then take it to the board for final approval by July (to take effect by June 2006), unless ASTM quickly reaches some new compromise that could forestall CARB action.

ASTM diesel lubricity task force chair Manuch Nikanjam (Chevron) announced here that the latest ballot proposal to establish a 3,100 grams (minimum) limit via scuffing load ball-on-cylinder lubricity evaluator (SLBOCLE) got 13 “negative” votes, forcing the task force to withdraw it (see Diesel Fuel News 1 10/28/02, p11).

Those arguing for a tougher standard (Europe’s 460 microns HFRR limit, especially favored by fuel injection equipment maker Bosch) and those favoring a more modest limit (many refiners and pipelines) seem hopelessly divided, thus triggering CARB’s announcement here of new plans for a mandatory limit, Nikanjam explained.

California already has an “informal” 3,000 grams BOCLE limit for low-aromatics, low-sulfur CARB diesel, and that will be a starting point for discussions about possible mandatory ULSD limits at the upcoming CARB workshop.

Refiners, engine makers and test experts have been haggling at ASTM over diesel lubricity limits for at least 13 years, but the urgency to do something grows along with the growing spread of low-lubricity ULSD fuel.

Major U.S. refiners selling ULSD today to certain “clean” fleets tend to adopt the 3,100 grams SLBOCLE standard endorsed by Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) since this represents heavy-duty needs, accounting for nearly all of U.S. diesel fuel demand. Lubricity additive treat rates to achieve this SLBOCLE limit are vastly lower than would be required with a 460-microns HFRR limit.

However, light-duty systems in Europe tend to require more lubricity than heavy-duty diesels, and North American light-duty diesel sales could skyrocket in coming years. Citing European experience and growing demand for light-duty diesels in North America (especially in the pickup/sport-utility vehicle class) fuel injector equipment (FIE) makers warn that tougher ASTM lubricity specs are needed, too. More than 1 million light-duty diesels on U.S. roads today will experience ULSD fuel effects in about three years – or maybe sooner in some “early” ULSD markets, as a Bosch representative pointed out to us here.

So, Nikanjam told the ASTM “E-2” (diesel fuel) section meeting here that the lubricity task force will try once again to fashion some sort of compromise proposal, perhaps a pared-down version that might only include a lubricity standard for ULSD, or perhaps only No. 2 ULSD (leaving No. 1 unaffected for now). But growing “negative” comments (13 this time versus eight in an earlier ballot) and new evidence of opposition to ideas such as exempting No. 1 diesel indicate that a new ASTM ballot isn’t likely to overcome all opposition.

Short of a final ASTM compromise or resolution, task force members also could try to work with CARB to adopt some sort of compromise “interim” standard, Nikanjam pointed out.

This might be aided in part due to recent ASTM formal approval of improved lubricity test methods including a “500-hour pump test” as well as an “improved” HFRR test method. Meantime, a revised “ball on three discs” (BOTD) bench test with improved ceramic balls also seems likely to head for another round-robin, and a low-humidity version of HFRR – showing better response to lower levels of lubricity additives – could likewise head for a new round-robin evaluation soon.

U.S. EPA isn’t likely to adopt a lubricity standard unless it has proof of some emissions benefit, Nikanjam pointed out. Possible evidence: Excessive damage to injection equipment caused by poor-lubricity fuels can lead to injection timing changes that would indeed cause higher emissions, as one FIE expert pointed out here.

Meantime, it’s conceivable that FIE makers (and their light-duty diesel allies) could have their “negatives” on a 3,100-grams SLBOCLE-based standard voted down as “non-persuasive” at the next ASTM “E” meeting in June. But this potentially could add impetus to threats by original equipment makers (OEMs) to walk out of ASTM over the group’s failure to boost diesel cetane limits or give “fair” weight to engine/automaker concerns.

*EMA Upset With Process

Following OEM complaints that ASTM seems incapable of making even modest diesel quality improvements — such as adopting a 42.5 cetane index equivalency to 40 cetane number, even with overwhelming data supporting a boost (see Diesel Fuel News 6/24/02, p1) — Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) wrote to ASTM “D” (petroleum products) chairman James Bover requesting a new “balanced voting system.”

This letter asks that the “E” subcommittee adopt the same voting scheme earlier granted to automakers to assuage concerns about improving gasoline quality.

This “balanced” scheme would allot one-third of votes to fuels producers, one-third to “user/consumers” (including engine and vehicle makers), and one-third to “general interest” (including test labs).

“Adoption of a balanced voting system is critical to engine manufacturers’ continued participation in Subcommittee E,” the EMA letter to ASTM warns.

Partly in response to such concerns, the ASTM “E-2” (diesel fuel) section just voted here to go ahead with a new ballot that seems to resolve the last remaining “negative” votes over improving cetane index correlation.

An alternative “four-variable equation” (see Diesel Fuel News 10/28/02, p10) now seems likely to resolve a key “negative” vote over the earlier 42.5 cetane index proposal from the June ASTM meeting.

Based on a huge database, the new “four-variable” equation seems to correlate well for No. 2 diesel fuel, but the existing ASTM D4737 equation method seems to correlate better for No. 1 diesel. So, a new ballot will go out soon, proposing the new “four-variable” cetane equation for No. 2, and the old equation for No. 1.

Even so, it’s questionable whether this action will forestall an OEM pullout from ASTM.

“We’re in danger of losing all of them,” ASTM “E” subcommittee chair Steve Westbrook warned here. Without an improved, “balanced” voting system that gives greater weight to engine/vehicle maker concerns, the ASTM diesel fuels subcommittee could be relegated to rubber-stamping or recapping government actions on diesel fuel quality, or even cease to exist, Westbrook said.

Following Nikanjam’s discouraging comment that ASTM seems “paralyzed” over changing key D-975 (diesel fuel) specifications, Westbrook gloomily commented that it “sounds like a good time to shut-down E-2.”

*Compromise Lacking

However, E-2 section chair Roger Leisenring (Chevron Oronite) pointed out that EMA’s “balanced voting” proposal doesn’t guarantee success. “Balanced voting only helps when you have a few negatives,” unlike the virtual avalanche of negatives over lubricity, Leisenring said. “I don’t know what the solution is if people won’t compromise.

The only diesel engine OEM that showed up for the “E-2” section meeting here was International’s senior engineer Frank Bondarowicz, chairman of EMA’s diesel fuel quality committee.

Bondarowicz told “E-2” that unless some positive motion toward improving fuel quality becomes apparent here, then he couldn’t recommend further EMA involvement, let alone his own company’s involvement.

While encouraged by the apparent progress with the new “four-variable” cetane index equation, Bondarowicz said that’s not enough. EMA will bring new proposals to ASTM to adopt incremental hikes in cetane number minimums over the next few years.

This scheme would start with at least 42 cetane number, then 44, and then 47 (up from 40 today), he said. Many OEMs already specify cetane minimums of 42-45 in order to reduce “white smoke” (hydrocarbon) cold-start emissions and reduce odor and noise, he said.

Similarly, National Conference of Weights & Measures (NCWM) adopted a 47-cetane minimum for “premium diesel” (see related story, p10). Light-duty diesel makers prefer an even higher number — 52 — to aid engine performance and avoid cold-start emissions, Bondarowicz added.


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