RSI-CTC Calls for Rail Rulemaking Harmonization

The Railway Supply Institute Committee on Tank Cars (RSI-CTC) has submitted comments to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in response to efforts to create new regulations for the shipment of crude oil and ethanol. While RSI-CTC is glad of the government’s work, they are warning of significant disruption to safety and major sectors of the North American economy is mismatched rules are implemented by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Transport Canada. These disruptions, said RSI-CTC, include the loss of a significant portion of the rail tank car fleet during the modification period, and unintended consequences such as a potential increase in truck shipments of flammable liquids on highways.

To address these potential disruptions and safety hazards, the RSI-CTC called for greater harmonization between the two rulemaking bodies in the U.S. and Canada, and provided insight and specific recommendations across a range of issues that will help reduce the risk of transporting flammable liquids by rail in North America. The comments also urged DOT to focus more on the root causes of most derailments which continue to be track failure and human error, not tank car design.

railway supply institute logo“For years we have been advocating for a holistic approach to safety that will prevent train derailments and address tank car standards, among other issues,” said Tom Simpson, President of RSI. “In our comments today, we reiterated our positions and offered a comprehensive set of practical recommendations that will bring the greatest safety benefit in the quickest ways possible. For instance, we believe the timelines for modifications in the U.S. and Canada should be synchronized and feasible to avoid major disruptions of service. Moreover, the specifications for new tank cars and the rules for packaging of flammable liquids need to match up across North America. Without making these important changes to align the rules, the effect will be to deplete the fleet of tank cars available for service, and those effects to safety and the economy cannot be underestimated.”

RSI-CTC and independent third-party research show that the proposed U.S. rules—in their current form—would effectively force approximately 90,000 tank cars to be withdrawn from service at various times during the modification program and parked until the shop capacity required to carry out the necessary modifications becomes available. Between 2018 and 2020, 30-50 fifty percent of the total crude oil and ethanol tank car fleet would be idled at any given time. To replace the loss in 2017, the year the first compliance deadline hits, theoretically it would require 20,000 trucks carrying more than 370,000 truckloads on North American highways, a practical impossibility and potentially more hazardous outcome given the safety risk associated with transport by truck.

In its comments to PHMSA, the RSI-CTC supports a “commodity-based approach” for selecting the proper tank car that requires shippers to ensure materials are appropriately and safely packaged. The RSI-CTC also asked PHMSA to differentiate the requirements for new and existing cars, which will allow more new or modified cars with enhanced safety features to be put into service more quickly, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Ethanol Report with New RFA Chairman

ethanol-report-adRandall Doyal, General Manager and CEO of Minnesota-based Al-Corn Clean Fuel, is the new Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

rfa-doyal-1Doyal’s plant located in Claremont, Minnesota opened in 1996 and now produces 50 million gallons annually. In this interview, he talks about some of the challenges and opportunities facing the ethanol industry in the immediate future. Challenges include the lack of certainty surrounding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and railway transportation problems, while the importance of ethanol as a higher octane fuel and increasing exports are rising opportunities.

Ethanol Report with New RFA Chairman

Railways Not Required to Report Ethanol Delays

stbA few weeks ago, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) directed Canadian Pacific Railway Company and BNSF Railway Company to report their plans to resolve the backlogs of grain car orders and to submit weekly status reports on grain car service.

However, the order failed to address rail service problems for the delivery of ethanol, and Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis has sent a letter to the STB asking why.

growth-energy-logo“With over 61 percent of all ethanol delivered by rail, it is imperative that these issues be directly addressed and given the same priority as grain shipments,” said Buis in the letter. “Earlier this year, we saw ethanol supply dwindle and prices skyrocket solely because of the inability to get rail cars to ship product – even to the point of having many plants reduce production. Ultimately, these service failures hurt the American consumer as these costs are borne in the form of higher gasoline prices, which impact every segment of the American economy.”

BNSF reported recently that they have been moving increasing volumes of grain and ethanol over the last several months and as of last month was “moving more year–to–date in 2014 than the same period in 2013.” In a statement, BNSF said they “have exceeded last year’s totals in ethanol…by 9% in latest year-to-date totals.”

The first report from the railroad companies was due to STB on June 27.

Forecast for Greater GHG Reduction from Ethanol

A new report forecasts global ethanol consumption will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions this year by over 106 million tons.

global-rfaThe Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA), in cooperation with (S&T)2 Consultants Inc., released their Global Green House Gas (GHG) Emissions Reduction Forecast for 2014 as the International Transport Forum Summit begins today in Germany.

The annual report shows the reduction in global GHG emissions from global ethanol production is increasing. This year’s figure reveals that 90.38 billion litres of global ethanol production and use in 2014 will reduce global GHG emissions by over 291,000 tonnes per day. Compared to 2013, this is an increase of over 7000 tonnes per day in GHG emission savings.

According to GRFA, the 106.4 million ton GHG emissions reduction is equal to over 21 million cars being removed from the world’s roads in 2014, about 58,000 per day.

“We believe International Transport Forum Summit participants should call for an increase in ethanol production and use given the significant contribution ethanol is making to reducing global GHG emissions today,” said GRFA spokesman Bliss Baker. This year’s theme for the International Transport Forum Summit is “Transport for a Changing World”.

Ethanol on the Rails

ethanol-report-adIn the last couple of weeks there have been two derailments of trains carrying crude oil, one in Virginia on April 30 and one in Colorado on May 9. These incidents are just the latest in a string of accidents that began last summer when a runaway oil train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Other trains carrying Bakken crude have derailed and caught fire in Alabama, North Dakota, and New Brunswick, Canada.

rail-fireWhile crude oil has been the common denominator in these accidents, ethanol has been caught in the cross fire despite its nearly perfect safety record in rail transportation.

In this edition of “The Ethanol Report,” Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen discusses the safety record of ethanol shipments via the DOT-111A railcar, RFA’s program of safety training and best practices within the ethanol industry, and the need to focus on the root cause of recent derailments, track conditions and human error, and not exclusively on railcar design. Most importantly, he emphasizes “ethanol is not oil.”

Ethanol Report with RFA president Bob Dinneen on rail safety

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NTSB Holds Rail Transportation Safety Forum

ntsbOutgoing National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman says “regulators are behind the curve” when it comes to the transport of hazardous liquid, whether ethanol or crude oil.

“Those shipments have increased by over 440 percent (since 2005) but our regulations have not changed,” Hersman said at the National Press Club prior to the start of a two day forum on Safety of Rail Transportation of Crude Oil and Ethanol. She says accidents are happening “far too often, safety has been compromised” in oil train shipments.

Some of the concern brought about by recent accidents involving both oil and ethanol shipments revolves around the rail tank cars themselves, particularly the DOT-111, which she says is not safe enough for hazardous liquids. “Carrying corn oil is fine, carrying crude oil is not,” said Hersman.

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen testified at the NTSB forum about the safety record of ethanol shipments via the DOT-111A railcar, the intense focus of the RFA on safety training and best practices within the ethanol industry, and the need for the NTSB to focus on the root cause of recent derailments, including track conditions and human error.

RFA-logo-13Noting that 70 percent of ethanol travels to the marketplace via rail and has done so for over 30 years, Dinneen gave credit to the railroads that since 2012 have successfully shipped 99.997 percent of hazardous material carloads. “From 2006–2013, the U.S. ethanol industry moved over two million shipments of ethanol,” Dinneen testified. “However, during that period only 226 cars derailed with only 91 releasing product.”

Dinneen further testified that in each of the ethanol derailment incidents that have occurred, the NTSB determined the derailment to be the result of rail operation, such as substandard track integrity, switching failures, inspection errors, maintenance problems or lack of communication between train crews. “Keeping the cars on the track by eliminating the root causes of these DOT-111A tank car derailments is the only way to achieve a perfect safety record,” said Dinneen.

Rail Problems Impacting Ethanol Supplies

snow-trainOne impact of the long, cold winter across the nation has been weather-related rail disruptions that are taking a toll on ethanol supplies and production.

The record winter weather patterns that have caused repeated snowstorms have resulted in stalled trains, frozen controls and increased demand for rail cars. All that has made it difficult to move ethanol to the Northeast.

The Energy Information Administration reported last week that stocks of ethanol stood at 15.9, down 2.4% from the previous week, the lowest level of the year so far. Stocks are well below the 20-day supply mark for the second week in a row and on the East Coast stocks of ethanol fell to their lowest level on record last week, at 4.6 million barrels compared to 6.4 million this time last year.

“Naturally, limited regional mobility leads to limited regional supply which can impact prices, but market observers believe this is a temporary situation that will soon be corrected,” said Renewable Fuels Association Executive Vice President Christina Martin.

The backlog in transportation is causing ethanol plants to slow production somewhat. According to EIA data, ethanol production averaged 869,000 barrels per day (36.50 million gallons), down 25,000 barrels from the previous week and the lowest in eight weeks.

The backups have also been delaying grain shipments from last year’s record crop but rail company officials, including BNSF and CSX, say they are working hard to get everything back to normal.

RFA Releases Rail Transportation Information

RFA-logo-13The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has released the “Guidelines for Hinged and Bolted Manway Assembly” in conjunction with the start of the 2013 Fuel Ethanol Workshop. The publication is a powerful resource for ethanol shippers to ensure the safe transport of ethanol through the rail system.

The guidelines explain in detail the correct assembly of a manway, the proper steps for inspection, the most efficient way to spot imperfections, and the steps needed to create and maintain a consistent process to secure manways in order to end the occurrence of non-accident releases. This illustration-filled guideline was produced in response to an increased need for an engineering standard addressing the inspection, maintenance, and securement of hinged and bolted manways.

The RFA guidelines are an indispensable resource for both manway manufacturers and rail shippers. Nearly 70 percent of ethanol is transported to the marketplace using the U.S. railroad system, with roughly 330,000 shipments of ethanol taking place annually.

RFA representatives will be attending the 2013 Fuel Ethanol Workshop this week and will have a manway on hand to show the correct way to seal and tighten the bolts. We encourage manufacturers and shippers to stop by the exhibit and pick up a copy of the “Guidelines for Hinged and Bolted Manway Assembly.”

“Rail safety is vitally important to the RFA and something as simple as under tightening or over tightening a bolt on the manway can lead to an accidental release of ethanol. We lead an extensive research program looking at the production process for manways and ways to improve their proper securement. Our ultimate goal is zero non-accident releases and the guidelines are a significant first step toward reaching that goal,” said Kristy Moore, RFA’s vice president of technical services.

The publication was made possible with a grant from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration. Additionally, RFA partnered with Watco Compliance Services, VSP Technologies, and Salco Products, Inc. to collect the necessary information on manways and their proper installment.

RFA Honored for Emergency Readiness Training

rfa-moore-awardThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) was honored today with the “2012 TRANSCAER® National Achievement Award,” at the Association of American Railroads/Bureau of Explosives HazMat Seminar in Addison, Texas.

RFA received the award for its commitment to the goals of TRANSCAER® and for its role in educating communities on how to handle chemical transportation emergencies. TRANSCAER® (Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response) is a voluntary outreach initiative that works to keep communities safe and prepares them for possible hazardous transportation emergencies.

“I have worked with TRANSCAER® for many years and am honored to receive this award on behalf of the Renewable Fuels Association,” said RFA Vice President for Technical Services Kristy Moore who accepted the award on behalf of the organization. “I have been involved in planning safety seminars and know that the value of a coordinated response can be the difference between a fire and full out disaster.”

The RFA partners with railroad companies and local industry associates to hold safety seminars on how to handle ethanol related emergencies. The seminars examine everything from how to handle tank farm and bulk storage fire incidents to the transportation and transfer of ethanol blended fuels. The RFA began safety seminars in 2010 and continues to host sessions throughout the United States. To date, the RFA has hosted 69 safety seminars in 20 different states, including Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Tennessee. Ten more seminars are planned this year and the RFA intends to continue this important program next year. The free seminars are open to everyone, including first responders, emergency planners and the general public.

America Can Achieve Energy Victory

If the United States puts its mind to it, energy victory can be achieved. How? Energy expert Dr. Robert Zubrin, author of Energy Victory has the formula for success.  Zubrin recently spoke at the Indiana Ethanol Forum, and fellow journalist Meghan Grebner of Brownfield Ag News interviewed him after his presentation asking him what the most important thing people should take away from his presentation.

“The most vital threat to America right now is its energy insecurity,” answered Zubrin. “The number one responsibility of the federal government is national defense. That means defending us from being looted by the foreign oil cartel; defending us from being brought to our knees for lack of fuel. In order to weaken the power of the cartel, and as well as lower the price of oil, and benefit our economy, we need other options.”

Zubrin said we need to have fuel choice both as a nation and as individuals.  He also explained that we need to put our domestic resources, such as the agricultural sector, to work solving the problem, but right now we’re being blocked from using what we have.  “We are not addicted to oil, our cars our addicted to oil,” said Zubrin.

The solution? Enabling our cars to use other fuels that are not controlled by the oil cartel.

Listen to Dr. Robert Zubrin’s entire interview to learn more about how America can achieve energy victory. Robert Zubrin

Thanks to Brownfield Ag News for sharing this interview with Domestic Fuel.

Ethanol Safety Training in Chattanooga

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Norfolk Southern Corp., and Tate & Lyle will co-host a free Ethanol Safety Seminar in Chattanooga, TN on April 18th at the Chattanooga Fire Department Training Center.

The goal of this seminar is for attendees to gain a full ethanol emergency response training experience that they can put to use immediately in the field as well as pass along to other first response teams. A majority of this training is based on the Complete Training Guide to Ethanol Emergency Response, a training package created by the Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition (EERC) that has been distributed throughout the United States and to several countries worldwide.

“Ethanol is the most commonly transported hazmat by rail today. It is important that first responders are familiar with this commodity and proper response practices should an ethanol related emergency occur,” said David Schoendorfer, Norfolk Southern Manager Hazardous Materials.

“With this high volume of blended fuel traveling through communities, it is essential that first responders are as fully prepared as possible to act immediately in the unfortunate event of an ethanol emergency,” RFA VP of Technical Services Kristy Moore. “Safety will always be a priority in the ethanol industry and we are thrilled to be able to offer this type of training.”

To accommodate schedules and reach as many participants as possible, the seminar will feature a morning session from 9:00am to 2:00pm and an evening session from 5:30-10:00pm. Lunch and dinner will be provided. Registration is available on-line.

New Website for Pre-Owned Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Are you searching for a pre-owned alternative fuel vehicle or equipment? Test drive a new website, afvresale.com, developed by The Sales Network (TSN). This site lets consumers who want to “go green” buy or sell previously owned alternative fuel vehicles or equipment.
The website provides free membership for listing, responding and searching any pre-owned alternative fuel vehicle located across the nation, including those powered by propane autogas, ethanol, CNG, electricity and biodiesel, as well as hybrid vehicles.

“The Sales NetWork established afvresale.com because the demand is there,” said Greg Zilberfarb, CEO and president of the Sales NetWork. “We live in a time where people are becoming more environmentally and cost conscious. The more we worked with clients in the alternative fuels industry, the more we were hearing a cry out for a place where alternative fuel vehicles could be bought and sold online, similar to an online classifieds for clean-burning vehicles.”

I’ve worked for years with a variety of alternative fuel industries and Clean Cities programs and there has always been a blaring gap between the OEM’s and resale markets for alternative fuel vehicles,” said Zilberfarb. “This site closes that gap and creates a useful clearinghouse for Clean Cities coordinators across the country to buy good, quality used vehicles that reduce our nation’s carbon footprint.”

Sea Green Project Accelerates Algae for Aviation

Renewable aviation fuel was a hot topic during the recent Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva. During the event, the Sustainable Use of Renewable Fuels (SURF) consortium was announced with the intention of accelerating algae for aviation fuel. SURF was developed to support Cranfield University’s Sea Green project that will harvest algae to produce jet fuel at commercial scale. SURF is comprised of Airbus, British Airways, Rolls-Royce, Finnair, Gatwick Airport, IATA, and Cranfield University.

Cranfield currently has a pilot facility on campus that is growing and processing algae for biofuels. However, the long-term the goal is for Sea Green to be an ocean based facility and producing commercial scale levels of bio-jet fuel within three years. According to a press release, Sea Green’s ocean based facility, “will be designed to use the expanse of the world’s near-shore waters to rapidly grow microalgae at a faster rate than any other initiative and capture CO2 from the atmosphere and seas at the same time”

Researchers argue that this is a more sustainable method of biofuel production because it does not compete with agricultural land, doesn’t require fresh water, doesn’t result in deforestation, and doesn’t damage the environment.

“Many biofuels compete with agricultural land and fresh water which results in the price of food being pushed up. This project and consortium aim to see how algae could benefit the aviation industry,” said Professor Feargal Brennan, Head of Cranfield University’s Department of Offshore, Process and Energy Engineering.

Brennan continued, “It will look at ways to grow and harvest naturally occurring species of algae in large volumes and to process these into fuel. Algae grows naturally in sea water and with over 70 percent of the surface of the earth being water, Cranfield’s Sea Green project is a logical and potentially high yield solution. Few replacement options to kerosene for fueling commercial aircraft have been identified but jet fuel produced from algae produced in this way, could be a major break-through.”

Green Scissors 2010 Calls for Cut in Wasteful Spending

At the helm of Friends of the Earth, a new report was released today highlighting government programs and subsidies that are wasteful to taxpayers, harmful to the environment and bad for consumers. The Green Scissors 2010 report targeted four major areas for budget cuts including energy, agriculture and biofuels, infrastructure, and public lands.

Many of the recommendations of this report come as no surprise to the agricultural and biofuels industry, as over the past two weeks, members of Friends of the Earth surreptitiously called agricultural organizations across the country, questioning them about their methods of production.

According to an industry insider whose company received multiple calls from various people in the employ of Friends of the Earth, the organization was asking questions about ground water quality (ag production, mainly corn and soybeans have been linked to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone) and hypoxia; two issues that have made national headlines in recent weeks. It is also no secret that Friends of the Earth has engaged in an active anti-agribusiness and biofuels campaign over the past few years, and the environmental organization has been tied to Big Oil through contribution monies.

It should be known that, Friends of the Earth, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Clean Air Task Force are currently engaged in a campaign to end the ethanol tax credit (VEETC) as well as the ethanol tariff. They have specifically attacked Growth Energy’s corn-ethanol advertising campaign in the Beltway.

They write on their website, “Tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money has already been wasted under the credit [VEETC]. And these funds do little more than to further line the coffers of the oil industry. This coalition is working to prevent an additional 30 billion plus dollars from being lavished on the industry to fulfill a legally mandated requirement to blend an environmentally harmful fuel into another environmentally harmful one.” Continue reading

Going Green Can Save You Green

Last week, I wrote a story regarding President Obama’s executive order for the federal government to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2020. One goal of this program is to get other companies to follow suit, but many companies don’t know where to start. Enter the Hondo Green Assessment Tool (HGAT). To learn more about how companies can become more sustainable, I spoke with the Hondo Group’s CEO Lynn Balinas.

HGAT is an internet based tool for small to mid-sized companies that can measure a company’s carbon footprint, manage its carbon footprint and maintain carbon footprint goals, explained Balinas. The tool measures five categories: water, energy, transportation, materials and waste. Ultimately the tool helps companies become not only more sustainable but more profitable as well.

“People usually first think, it’s about the environment, it’s about global warming. That’s part of it,” said Balinas. “But it’s good governance and it’s actually profitable for organizations.”

A few years ago, people perceived that going green meant going broke. That is actually not the case. Going green will actually help you make more green. For example, if all small to mid-sized businesses turned off their computers and printers at night (unplug the electronics) nearly $2.1 billion could be saved annually.

Here is how it works. After 35 days of metrics based on the five categories outlined above, the HGAT will tell a company how to reduce the carbon footprint and give suggestions that a company can choose to integrate. Ultimately, the tools that are put into place will help a company manage its program and save money.

Companies can implement the program alone or partner with other small to mid-sized companies. Balinas said that the average cost to a company with less than 50 employees is around $50 per month but the return is much greater.

Listen to my interview with Lynn below to learn more about HGAT.