Ban on sulphur in fuel

The European Commission has announced that from 2011 the use of 'zero' sulphur petrol will be mandatory.


The EC has also announced that it has adopted a proposal to introduce sulphur-free petrol and diesel in every member state from 1 January 2005 in order to speed the introduction of the latest fuel-efficient technologies in cars and other vehicles, significantly reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. An exact date for ‘zero’ sulphur diesel fuel becoming mandatory will be fixed as part of a later review. The new rule amends the previous standards for sulphur in petrol and diesel which set the maximum permissible sulphur content at 50 mg/kg or parts per million and the maximum aromatics content of petrol at 35% by volume. ‘Zero’ sulphur fuels contain less than 10 mg/kg (parts per million) of sulphur.

Tough action is being proposed as sulphur in petrol and diesel degrades the performance of both new and existing exhaust after-treatment devices such as catalytic converters. The Commission says that production of ‘zero’ sulphur fuels will involve more processing at refineries and an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. However, the fuel economy improvements of new vehicles are expected to be greater than the increase in emissions of carbon dioxide at refineries, given recent advances in refinery de-sulphurisation processes.

However, the information regarding the de-sulphurisation of diesel fuel and the expected fuel economy improvements of new diesel vehicles are less certain than for petrol. Therefore the end date for full introduction of ‘zero’ sulphur diesel will be confirmed in a later review in order to ensure that there is no overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The financial benefits of reduced fuel costs for consumers and those from improved air quality outweigh those associated with the production of ‘zero’ sulphur fuels, the Commission says.

In 1999 and 2000, the Commission had concluded agreements with the European, Korean and Japanese car manufacturers to reduce the CO2 emissions from new cars (see related story), with an expectation that low sulphur fuel would be available. The impact of sulphur-free fuels will be taken into account, in relation to the manufacturers’ commitment of 140 g CO2 per km, within the framework of the joint monitoring mechanism with the auto-manufacturers and the new Community monitoring mechanism on CO2 emissions.

The EC also announced that it would not be altering the permitted level of MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether) which is blended into petrol in varying amounts and has been found as a contaminant in groundwater. It says that the best way to tackle the problem of possible groundwater contamination from MTBE is to ensure that all underground tanks, used to store petrol at service stations, comply with the best available technical standards and that these standards are robustly enforced.

“This is a good day for the environment,” commented Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. “The availability of sulphur-free will remove an important technical barrier to the introduction of the most advanced fuel-efficient vehicles. We can now expect significant reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide from new cars, vans, trucks and buses. In addition, these fuels will help clean up the emissions of older more polluting vehicles and improve air quality for people throughout the European Union. I hope that the car manufacturers will respond positively to the availability of sulphur-free fuels. It is important that the new fuel-efficient technologies are introduced widely and optimised further in order to make additional significant reductions in the emissions of CO2 from new cars.”

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