Lab supervisor looks over the site for the new Iowa Cen

Iowa Central Fuel Testing Lab Director Don Heck and Josh Hayes, lab supervisor look over the site for the new lab. (Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Kriss Nelson).

New biofuels testing lab fueling the future

July 20, 2023 | Kriss Nelson

Iowa Central Community College broke ground this week at the site for its new biofuels testing lab. With the groundbreaking comes future opportunities to tout soy’s role in biofuels.

“Iowa Central has become a dominant player in the biofuel testing industry, and we are still the only independent lab in the United States,” says Jesse Ulrich, Iowa Central Community College president.

Coming from what Ulrich describes as a “closet using a couple of five-gallon buckets,” the new space will allow the Iowa Central Fuel Testing Lab to grow along with the biofuels industry into the future.

“By expanding our space and capabilities, we will be able to better serve the fuel industry, " says Iowa Central Fuel Testing Lab Director Don Heck. This includes the possibility of adding jet fuel testing capabilities.

Serving the fuel and biofuel industry

The state-of-the-art facility is expected to be operational by August 2024, continuing its mission to provide affordable and timely testing for motor vehicle fuels and home heating oils.

It is also the official lab for the state’s Bureau of Weights and Measures, the lab where fuels used across Iowa are tested to ensure they meet state standards. Ethanol, biodiesel, and fuel coming from refineries must pass the American Society for Testing Material (ASTM) specifications to be sold as quality fuel.

“Transportation is a vital infrastructure,” says Heck. “You have to have good fuel.”

 The lab's clients include fuel producers and marketers, other laboratories, consultants, transportation organizations, research firms and consumers.

In the beginning

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) provided support to initially start the lab in 2010.

Jim Kersten, vice president of external relations and government affairs at Iowa Central Community College, worked with ISA to get the state legislature to provide $250,000 in funding for testing equipment.

There was also support behind the scenes for federal funding encouragement from the National Biodiesel Board, now known as Clean Fuels Alliance America (Clean Fuels).

Steve Howell, Clean Fuels’ technical advisor, says in 2010 when the lab was started, there was a need for improvement in biodiesel quality. This was partly because some biodiesel producers didn’t thoroughly test their fuel, and third-party testing was expensive and hard to find.

“I encouraged Don (Heck), Jim (Kersten) and others that a lab was good for Iowa and the industry in general as a training ground for future biodiesel plant or test lab employees, and as an affordable source of high quality, independent third-party lab testing,” says Howell.

The lab has played a pivotal role in the success of biodiesel as a commercial replacement for diesel fuel, says Grant Kimberley, executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board.

“The Iowa Central Fuel Testing Laboratory has been a trailblazer for the biodiesel industry,” says Kimberley, who also serves as ISA’s senior director of market development.

The lab was the first in the nation to become an accredited laboratory under the BQ-9000 biodiesel fuel quality program.

“It meets an important fuel quality need for biodiesel producers in Iowa and nationwide,” says Kimberley. “We congratulate the lab and the college on the coming new laboratory and look forward to their continued contributions to the success of renewable fuels.”

Since the lab’s beginning, Clean Fuels has used Iowa Central’s testing for various research.

“It is a success story that has been good for the industry,” says Howell. “With over 90 percent of production now coming from BQ-9000 plants, many use Iowa Central for part of their BQ-9000 testing.”

Testing fuels will ensure they are of good quality, gaining consumer confidence to use those fuels in their vehicles.

“When we are testing renewable fuels, we are testing fuels that are coming from soybeans and corn, helping to bring them to market and helping Iowa farmers,” says Heck.