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Getting ‘testy’ with fuels

By Staff | Feb 12, 2015

JULAINE BIDLEMAN, Marketing manager for the Iowa Central Fuel Testing Lab, housed on the ICCC campus in Fort Dodge.

FORT DODGE – Got fuel? The Iowa Central Fuel Testing laboratory is likely able to test its quality.

Julaine Bidleman, marketing manager for the lab, on Thursday told members of the Ag Leaders Committee of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, the lab will test for fuel producers, retailers, farmers and even individual vehicle owners.

The lab, Bidleman said, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fast turnaround test results at low costs.

She said even a vehicle owner who suspects poor quality fuel is fouling engines can bring them a sample, and they’ll test it.

But the bulk of the lab’s business is with fuel producers of biodiesel and ethanol. An estimated 38 percent of its business is for Iowa clients, but tests have been performed for Illinois, Ohio and Utah, as well as Canada, China, Barbados and India.

Bidleman said 65 percent of the testing work is on biodiesel.

But it will also test ethanol and various blends of the biofuel, gasoline and home heating fuels.

The lab started in 2007, helped along by a grant of $984,000 by the U.S. Department of Energy, on the Iowa Central Community College campus.

It’s an offshoot of the college’s biofuels technology program with the multi-year Two Million Mile B20 biodiesel field trial for Decker Trucking of Fort Dodge.

According to director Don Heck, by 2012, with only four personnel employed, the fully accredited lab had more than 100 clients and was officially self-sustaining. In 2014, its clientele totaled 160. It is housed in the Health and Biosciences Building on ICCC’s campus with five full time employees.

The lab holds QB-9000 and ISO-9001 certifications. The former is a quality requirement of the National Biodiesel Board for test labs. The latter is an international quality assurance program.

Among a list of 52 tests the lab can perform on various fuels are flash point, the temperature required for fumes to ignite; cetane content, the biodiesel equivalent to gasoline octane; cloud point, the temperature needed for a diesel fuel to begin gelling; visual inspections; gum content; and lubricity.

Students in ICCC’s biofuels technology course can tour the lab, but no students do any of the work, Bidleman said.

She said the lab is considering relocating off the campus, because “we are bursting at the seams.” However, as the fate of the Renewable Fuels Standards is undetermined by the Environmental Protection Agency, those plans are shelved for the time being.

Bidleman said she enjoys the customer service part of her job. The lab exists, she said, to serve others, committed to getting results back quickly to customers.

Being a non-profit entity, the costs are kept low and are reinvested in the lab, she said.

The lab works closely with Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Weight and Measures Bureau.

“We basically test the fuel samples that the state pulls from various producers and retailers,” Heck said in an earlier interview. “That’s our main goal – to serve the renewable fuels industry with ethanol and biodiesel testing and to support the state department of weights and measures with their fuel quality monitoring.”

The fuel lab received its ISO-9001 accreditation in May 2012.

“That just basically means that we follow a regimented program regarding quality control, record-keeping documentation, verifying the instruments are performing consistently,” Heck said. “We do what we call reference checks on the instruments.

“We want to make sure the instrument is giving us the actual number for that particular test. We want to make sure it’s accurate.

“We want to make sure it’s precise. And that’s basically what these programs do. It just means you have a formal quality control program in place for your operation.”

In September 2009, the lab fulfilled its first contracted project, a cold flow test of fuel samples for the National Biodiesel Board.

“We try to get tests back within 48 hours,” Heck said. “The lab’s purpose is to answer one of two primary questions. ‘Will the fuel get to the engine, and will the fuel hurt the engine?'”

The majority of fuel producers have their own testing labs, Heck said, “but these need to routinely have outside testing done to prove that their testing results are accurate.

Others labs, with broken equipment, will use the ICCC facility to keep their testing going until the machines are repaired, he said.

Bidleman said that so far the lab has not tested cellulosic ethanol.

“But we’d like to get a sample as education for lab personnel to see how it goes,” she said.

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