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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

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NORA Update: Marketing Low Carbon Fuels and Services


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Michael Devine, President of NORA, opened the NORA Update session at the Visions Conference with an intriguing question: “Are you marketing high carbon fuels and services, or low carbon fuels and services?”

He did not pose the question lightly. From a business sense, Devine noted a steadily increasing drop in heating degree days over the years, culminating in several locations experiencing a 2.4 percent drop per year between 2018 and 2023. The declining degree days were accompanied with a six percent loss in revenue from fewer gallons sold.

“If you’re feeling this, and you’re thinking ‘it’s me,’ I’m here to tell you it’s not you. We’re all feeling it,” Devine told the audience of fuel retailers, wholesalers, producers and equipment manufacturers.

Devine named consumer behavior, the economy, improved equipment efficiency, and competition from heat pumps and other liquid fuels among the reasons for the loss in sales. The answer to these issues, he believes, is in positioning companies and the renewable liquid fuel industry at large as providers of low carbon fuels and services.

“This is not an existential or political question. It’s a simple decision that will likely guide your organization forward over the next decade. Just to be clear, we are talking about going green here, environmentally, for sure, but also and more importantly, financially as well. There is a cost to decarbonization that every industry is facing. The advantage that our industry has is that our cost of decarbonization is nominal at best and our transition costs to our customers are minimal,” Devine said.


Making Lower Carbon Fuels Available

NORA, most notably through research and development, is working to expand the availability and use of low carbon fuels. In his update, Devine discussed:

  • Expansion of B50 and B100 field testing, including research into an increase in burner head coking in some appliances.

  • Building out the Net-Zero Carbon Home project. Homes in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania are already running on B100 and solar, and NORA is working with locations in Maine and Massachusetts. “For less than $12,000, you can have a net-zero home,” Devine added. Later in the presentation, he noted that with the high-efficiency boiler or furnace NORA provides for the Net-Zero homes, the homes are actually running at negative CO2 emissions and returning electricity to the grid. “This is a phenomenal story we can tell right now. It’s not in the future. It’s what our industry can do today!” he exclaimed.

  • Testing renewable diesel (RD) in R100 as well as RD/biodiesel blends.

  • Investigating pour point depressants and other additives to enhance cold weather performance of B100 and high bio blends in outside tanks.

  • Working with UL and ASTM to develop standards for renewable diesel, led by Dr. Thomas Butcher.

  • Investigating claims of tank corrosion from the use of biodiesels. “We haven’t substantiated any degradation of tanks from the use of biodiesel. Water seems to be the main culprit. But we continue to be asked, and we continue to look at it,” he stated.

Looking forward, Devine noted the similarities and differences between biodiesel and renewable diesel. While most RD is shipped to the West Coast, the Northeast was becoming a more “friendly” place for the RD market. The industry has made a commitment to converting to lower carbon intensity fuels and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and gallons burned. Currently, biodiesel is the only biofuel used for heating, but renewable diesel, and other fuels, including ethyl levulinate, are candidates for our net-zero carbon future (see article on page 22 on Net-Zero Fuels).

Devine was very excited about the field testing of B100 in 19 sites on Long Island and in Boston. They are reviewing fuel quality changes over time, carbon build up and head fouling, and NORA’s commitment to identify the root causes and solutions to these complications. When properly set up, most heating systems will not have combustion issues when switching to higher blends of biodiesel.

“When the technician goes in to perform annual maintenance, our goal is that they will not be able to tell if the system is burning B5 or B100,” Devine said.


Continuing Education

Noting that the industry is “aging out, particularly our techs,” Devine turned the presentation to the outreach and education programs NORA has engaged in. “For Gen Z and Y, we can’t market this as a high carbon fuel. We need to market the low carbon, renewable energy aspects of our business. The next generation of technicians is looking for a cause and a purpose. It’s unlikely that AI is going to take these jobs away, so we need to reconsider the stereotypes, and shape the future by embracing technology.”

He went on to discuss a new program at SUNY Morrisville, where NORA researcher Dr. Jenny Frank is based, and where students will be working hands-on to study B100 in climate-controlled enclosures and earn NORA Bronze certification and/or Associate’s and Bachelors degrees in renewable energy.

And, because changing technology requires constant learning, NORA has reenergized its training of technicians, customer service reps and accredited instructors. NORA also distributed “Bio-diesel Quick Guide Cards” for techs and FAQ Cards for CSRs, to enable them to more quickly and facilely answer customer questions.


International Standards

Devine ended the presentation discussing NORA’s engagement with the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for the 2024 standards. He lauded the leadership of Bob O’Brien, NORA’s Director of Education, as well as the entire NORA team. IECC is adopted in 49 states, including all NORA Northeast states. O’Brien and his team were able to keep combustion fuels in the code and block heat pump infrastructure. They were also able to pass a new definition, replacing ‘heating oil’ with ‘liquid fuels. While the team’s proposals to include renewable liquid fuels as eligible to offset on-site renewable energy requirements, there was a glimmer of hope. Renewable liquid fuels may be considered as a credit generator.

“This is where we need to be able to define our ability to decarbonize,” Devine concluded.

Sales and Marketing
NORA
June 2024
marketing strategy
low carbon fuels

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