U.S. Registration Requirements for Commercial Jet and Motor Vehicle Fuels

Among the regulations governing the development of renewable fuels are the various requirements in the U.S. and other countries around the world to have a new fuel certified or registered as appropriate for sale and use. In most countries, these regulations are distinct from more recently-enacted laws under which a fuel might be certified as “renewable” or to be sustainably produced – these regulations apply to all fuels and fuel additives, both traditional and renewable. The goal of these fuel certification regulations are to ensure that a new fuel has the appropriate chemical composition and that it is suitable for use in the range of engine types for which it is intended.

In this entry and in one to follow, I’ll briefly summarize the regulations or other requirements that are in place in the U.S. for different fuel types. Today’s post will describe testing and registration requirements for fuels intended for commercial (i.e. civilian) use, and the follow-up post will cover requirements for testing and certification of fuels for military use. I hope to cover regulations outside the U.S. in a subsequent post.

Generally, these regulatory regimes involve oversight over at least three distinct components. These are fuel composition (chemical make-up and physical/chemical properties); engine suitability and performance testing; and health effects of the emissions from fuel combustion. A fourth criteria which comes into play for novel aviation fuels is a consideration of the production pathway used to create the fuel, to ensure consistency and quality of the manufactured fuel product. Fuel composition and properties are often ascertained through the use of standard testing protocols to confirm that the fuel meets the accepted specification. Both the standards and the test protocols are often those certified by ASTM International or the equivalent standards issued by military branches or other international organizations. Engine testing may not be required in all cases, especially where the fuel has been shown to meet the applicable chemical specifications so as to be identical to a previously approved fuel, but where it is required the needed testing is often extensive. Similarly, assessment of health effects of emissions may be required under certain laws such as the U.S. Clean Air Act, but these requirements may be waived for fuels whose composition is identical to fuels currently on the market.

In the remainder of this post, I’ll describe the regulatory processes in place in the U.S. for motor vehicle (ground transportation) fuels for commercial use and jet fuels for commercial (civilian) aviation. In the post to follow, I’ll cover the requirements for motor vehicle fuels and aviation fuels for military use. There is some overlap between the different requirements: for example, although it is the Environmental Protection Agency that must certify all ground transportation fuels before they can be sold, a new fuel cannot be used by any branch of the U.S. military unless it has also undergone testing and certification by that branch. The same is true for aviation fuels: a new jet fuel that has undergone the needed testing and analysis to be cleared for use in commercial aviation must also pass muster with the applicable military branch, although in the case of jet fuels there is a greater degree of synergy between these two imperatives.

The following are the fuels I’ll cover in these two posts:

Fuel Type Application Agency/Military Branch
Ethanol, butanol, isobutanol All (regulated as fuel additives) EPA
Diesel, biodiesel, renewable diesel, renewable gasoline and other “drop-in” fuels Civilian (auto, truck, nautical, small engines) EPA
Military (ground, nautical) Navy (including Coast Guard and Marines)
Jet fuel Civilian (commercial aviation) FAA, through the ASTM standards process
Military Army*, Navy, Air Force

*Note: the U.S. Army uses jet fuel for its ground transportation needs.

Fuels for Civilian Use

Ethanol, butanol and isobutanol. All fuels and fuel additives must be certified by the U.S. EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAQ), under EPA regulations found in 40 CFR Part 79 before they can be sold in the United States.  The most common use for alcohols like ethanol and butanol is blending with gasoline, and when used in this way they are  regulated as fuel additives, subject to blending limits specifying the maximum concentrations permitted in gasoline (for ethanol, the maximum is 15% for autos and light trucks of model year 2001 or later, and 10% for all other vehicles and motors; for butanol the limit is 12.5%). The approval process for ethanol additives is fairly simple and primarily requires conducting analytical testing to show that the additive meets the applicable ASTM standard (e.g. D-4806 for ethanol), and subscribing to publicly-available applicable health effects studies. There are additional requirements for approval of E15 ethanol, which I have described in an earlier blog post.

Diesel and gasoline for civilian use. These fuels also must be certified by EPA OTAQ under the Part 79 regulations, but the process for fuels is potentially more complicated than it is for well-known additives like ethanol, and may require more extensive testing. The following is a brief summary of the needed procedures.

The Part 79 regulations establish two families of conventional fuel (diesel and gasoline), as well as four families of alternative fuels, with each family being defined by the specifications of a base fuel (e.g., traditional diesel for the diesel family). Although the alternative families include methanol and ethanol when used as the main component of a fuel rather than as an additive, I won’t discuss those requirements here. Each of the two conventional families are further subdivided into three categories, referred to as “baseline”, “non-baseline” and “atypical”. Baseline fuels are those that contain no elements other than those permitted in the category’s base fuel, and which fully meet the accepted specifications for the base fuel. Non-baseline fuels also contain no elements other than those permitted in the category’s base fuel, but may deviate from one or more of the limitations in the base fuel specification. Atypical fuels contain elements other than those permitted in the base fuel specification, or otherwise do not meet the applicable standards.

The regulations specify different tiers of data which might be needed to support the registration of a new fuel. There are basic application requirements (found in 40 CFR Part 79.11), which include the name of the fuel, the results of analytical testing, etc., and basic registration data (40 CFR Part 79.59(b)) which includes projected production volumes and other information. Beyond that, there are three potential tiers of testing: Tier 1 (40 CFR Part 79.52) includes basic emissions characterization data plus a literature search of potential health effects of fuel emissions; Tier 2 (40 CFR Part 79.53) includes toxicity, carcinogenicity and other tests, and Tier 3 (40 CFR Part 79.54) includes other data EPA may require based on the results of data in the other tiers.

Although many manufacturers may need to submit the Tier 1 and Tier 2 data, there is a very important exemption available for small businesses (companies having less than $50 million in total annual sales for the three years prior to the application date). Small business companies proposing the registration of either a baseline or a non-baseline fuel are exempt from the need for any Tier 1 or Tier 2 testing; and companies proposing registration of an atypical fuel are exempt from Tier 2 requirements (but not Tier 1) if their annual sales are less than $10 million. Generally, if the proposed new fuel meets the applicable ASTM specifications for that fuel family (D-975 for diesel and D-4814 for gasoline), it would be considered either a baseline or a non-baseline fuel. So, if a small business entity can show compliance with the applicable specification, it would be exempt from the Tier 1 and 2 testing requirements. If an applicant does not qualify for this exemption, it may be possible for that company to obtain access to the required test data by subscribing to a pre-existing group that has generated the data to EPA’s satisfaction (e.g. in recent years, health effects data has been available for biodiesel through such a group).

Jet fuel for civilian use (commercial aviation). The regulatory agency for civilian aviation is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but its approvals are not for the fuels per se — FAA approves aircraft, which are given “type certificates” as part of the certification process. Type certificates are given when the agency determines that the aircraft meets applicable regulations, and they usually specify the type design of the aircraft, its operating limitations, applicable regulations and the other approved conditions for which the aircraft can be used, including which fuel types are compatible with the plane’s engine. FAA regulations require that type certificate applicants identify the fuel grade or specifications that are to be used in their aircrafts. Upon approval, the specified fuels become part of the type certificate data sheet and the airplane flight manual.

FAA has historically relied on ASTM and equivalent standards, and the agency has stated that any fuel meeting ASTM standards D-1655, D-7566 or D-6615 would be acceptable for use in any engine certified for such fuels. (D-1655 is the specification for conventional petrochemical-derived Jet A fuel; D-7566 is a newer spec for jet fuels containing synthesized hydrocarbons, under which two annexes have been approved: one for fuels produced by the Fischer-Tropsch process, and another for “Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids” (HEFA) fuel derived from biomass feedstocks; D-6615 is the spec for Jet B).  It is important to note that these ASTM standards are specific for feedstock and production process, so that a developer of a renewable or alternative jet fuel that is produced by a new process or feedstock will in all likelihood need to go through the ASTM process to have this fuel pathway certified for commercial aviation use.

ASTM International follows a standard-setting process which is uniform throughout the organization. This process is summarized in detail elsewhere, for example, here. Briefly, in order to create a new standard, or an annex to an existing standard, it is necessary to develop a body of testing data which would be evaluated by a task force within a standing ASTM committee or subcommittee. The ASTM subcommittee responsible for the evaluation and approval of new aviation fuels is Committee D.02, Petroleum and Lubricants, Subcommittee J. Those companies or other institutions proposing the inclusion of a new fuel would carry out the needed testing, and the results would be reviewed by the appropriate task force. The task force would then create a Research Report describing the results of the testing, which would be made available to the applicable subcommittee and committee members. After appropriate periods for review and comment, the standard must be adopted by balloting first at the subcommittee level and then at the full committee level. Ballot approvals must be unanimous, which requires that any objections raised at either the subcommittee or committee level be addressed, or the objections withdrawn, before the standard can be adopted.

The FAA, along with the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), and Airlines for America (A4A), co-sponsors the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), as a multi-party organization to facilitate the testing and approval of alternative jet fuels. According to the CAAFI website, the organization’s long-term goal is to facilitate the development and deployment of alternative aviation fuels that will significantly reduce emissions associated with aviation operations in commercially meaningful quantities to improve price stability and supply security. Through its websites and meetings, CAAFI makes available a treasure trove of information useful to companies going through the process of having a new aviation fuel tested and certified for use in commercial aviation, through processes that are often also relevant to the potential use of the fuel for military purposes.

D. Glass Associates, Inc. is a consulting company specializing in government and regulatory affairs support for renewable fuels and industrial biotechnology. David Glass, Ph.D. is a veteran of over thirty years in the biotechnology industry, with expertise in industrial biotechnology regulatory affairs, U.S. and international renewable fuels regulation, patents, technology licensing, and market and technology assessments. Dr. Glass also serves as director of regulatory affairs for Joule Unlimited Technologies, Inc. More information on D. Glass Associates’ regulatory affairs consulting capabilities, and copies of some of Dr. Glass’s prior presentations on biofuels and biotechnology regulation, are available at www.slideshare.net/djglass99 and at www.dglassassociates.com. The views expressed in this blog are those of Dr. Glass and D. Glass Associates and do not represent the views of Joule Unlimited Technologies, Inc. or any other organization with which Dr. Glass is affiliated. Please visit our other blog, Biofuel Policy Watch.