Biofuels and NFPA 30

Recently I invited the local fire marshal to the site for a pre-inspection visit of the plant.

Some of you might think that this was inviting disaster, and you would not be alone. One of my friends was certain that the invitation would ultimately cost me thousands of dollars.

I would be lying if I told you dear reader that I was unafraid and knew that truth and justice and the valiant cause of clean fuels would effortlessly win the day.

I was looking for trouble. I was looking for potential problems.  I was searching in earnest for things that might need correction in order to avoid those things that can kill a project in this delicate time of financial uneasiness: surprises.

At any rate, I felt it important to face my fear and invite disaster in essence to avoid catastrophy.

California views biodiesel as an experimental engine fuel. To sell the fuel to consumers and fleet operators it is necessary to demonstrate that the consumer understands the risks of fuel use and its status in California. The sale of biodiesel also requires a special fuel variance granted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

There are only a few active biodiesel producers in the state, and that means that only a few representatives of the firefighting community have had the opportunity to inspect and approve production facilities. One tool commonly used by local fire authorities is a set of codes known as NFPA 30.

The NFPA is the National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 30 is this organizations code rleated to the storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids. The current version is the 2008 edition.

It covers the initial setup of control areas, maximum allowable quantities of materials based on the class of combustible, and spill prevention and countermeasures requirements.

I have taken the time necessary to become very familiar with this set of recommendations (regulations) as they pertain to the world of biodiesel plant build-outs, and I recommend that anyone interested in producing commerially work to become familiar with this document.

During the course of my facility inspection the majority of my fears were allayed. In addition I received some valuable advice on the placement of signage and some recommended plant “upgrades”to help make our compliance more obvious to future inspectors.

A day or two ago I purchased several NFPA placards, applied the appropriate numbers and symbols, and placed them in the strategic locations recommended by the local fire marshal. I also placed a legend placard explaining the NFP symbology next to the MSDS book located on a wall in the “Employee Right To Know” section of the plant. The placards indicate the worst-case scenario an emergency responder might encounter during a spill, fire, or other unplanned hazardous event.

As biodiesel producers it is inevitable that certain hazardous material will be located in our facilities. Equally inevitable are planned and unplanned inspections from a variety of regulatory agencies. In my view, the more planned or self-initiated inspections a plant has, the better prepared it will be for those unplanned visits that keep some of us awake at night.

Make it a better place.