Preparing For New ISO Rules
Recently, seven new ISO standards outlining specifications and classes for various forms of solid biofuels were officially published. This may come as a surprise to many, as the development of these standards has not been highly publicized in the U.S. At first glance, these standards may even seem redundant, as they are very similar to the seven EN standards previously published covering the same materials. These seven new ISO standards will eventually replace the seven older EN standards. Moreover, there are approximately 40 additional ISO standards in various stages of development that will eventually replace all of the EN solid biofuel standards that we currently see referenced in numerous fuel supply contracts and quality management schemes.
For those of us actively participating in ISO Technical Committee 238, this day has been long in coming. The work to develop ISO standards for solid biofuels began in 2007. It took time to gain momentum, but ISO standards are now being developed, covering all aspects of solid biofuels including terminology, standard specifications for various forms of biomass, chemical and physical test methods, sampling, sample preparation and, most recently, safety. Even though many exist as EN standards, the ISO process assures all nations can participate in the development so that they will be embraced worldwide as true international standards for solid biofuels.
The original EN standards were published by the European Union’s standardization body (CEN) between 2005 and 2010. Once published, EU states are required to replace their national standards with the EN standard within three years, which is why we are hearing less and less about various country-specific standards, such as the German DIN or the Austrian Önorm standards. The EN standards are now referenced in most fuel supply agreements we see coming from European power companies. They are also referenced in the Initiative Wood Pellet Buyer’s specifications and in the wood pellet quality management scheme EN-plus. We are starting to see signs of adoption of these standards in the South American and Asian markets, as well as in Canada and the United States.
Despite wide acceptance, the EN standards do have some drawbacks, the most significant being, if you are not an EU member, you cannot participate in EN standards development, with some limited exceptions for advisory roles. This, of course, does not bode well for countries like the U.S. and Canada exporting solid biofuels that need to have a place at the table. Fortunately, this was recognized. The developers of the EN standards approached ISO in 2007 to transition standards development to the international standards body. Now under ISO Technical Committee 238, the U.S., Canada and other ISO member countries can participate in their development.
If the new ISO standards are duplicating the existing EN, the question becomes, why the need to prepare? The EN standards were the product of a very large EU effort, including millions of euros invested in research, but they were far from flawless. Over the past several years of implementation, the need for numerous modifications have come to light, which are being incorporated into the ISO version. Each user needs to scan the ISO documents for modifications that affect specific operations. This can be in the form of how a method is performed, the pass/fail criteria of a class or specification, the nature of what is actually being measured and/or reported, the equipment needed to run a test, etc.
Another reason to prepare is that the U.S. domestic markets have relied on ASTM standards for decades, and may not feel ready to convert to the new worldwide system. The problem with the ASTM standards is that they have not been updated in years and are largely based on other fuel types such as coal and refuse-derived fuels. Updating the ASTM standards would require substantial effort that would essentially duplicate ISO, so why not start using the ISO standards?
It is still anybody’s guess as to whether the ISO standards will achieve acceptance as true worldwide standards for solid biofuels. It is clear, however, that this industry is growing rapidly worldwide. For that reason alone, it seems logical that at some point there will need to be true worldwide standards for solid biofuels. To me, the writing is on the wall and it is time to start preparing for the ISO standards.
Author: Chris Wiberg
Manager, Biomass Energy Laboratory