Sulphur-free fuel could increase overall CO2 emissions

The European oil refining industry has raised questions about the wisdom of further reductions in fuels' sulphur content. The president of the industry's trade association has stated that "any further tightening of fuels quality … will have adverse effect on [refineries'] CO2 emissions".

The world’s car manufacturers have recently issued a new World Fuels Charter, calling for supply of fuel with very low sulphur content (see related story). Europia, the association representing European oil refiners and retailers, is concerned that supplying such fuel would lead to much higher electricity consumption at refineries and therefore an increase in CO2 emissions.

Europia also points out that fuel retailers need to be assured that low-sulphur fuels will be in high enough demand to justify the cost of making them available widely.

“The car industry is indicating that it needs these ‘enabling’ fuels, but it’s being rather reticent about what its new technologies are,” a Europia spokesperson told edie. “The new technologies haven’t been assessed by anyone other than the car manufacturers themselves.”

What Europia wants is a “scientific and structured programme” which would investigate the final environmental benefit and cost-effectiveness of low sulphur fuels.

Speaking at the World Fuels Conference, Europia’s president Jean-Paul Vettier told his audience that European refineries had improved their energy efficiency by one percent each year for the last 10 years. But he warned that “the production of these enabling fuels requires more complex and energy consuming processes [and] this will result in additional CO2 emissions from the refineries. Thus, this extra CO2 production needs to be balanced against the saving expected at the vehicle level”.

Asked by edie whether car manufacturers are showing signs that they will consider the risk that changes to fuels could increase global greenhouse gas emission, the Europia spokesperson would not comment, other than to say that the World Fuels Charter “is a list of what the car industry would like. It’s a political document and the manufacturers have a voluntary agreement [with governments] to reduce vehicle emissions. So perhaps the question is ‘Does the Charter assist them in meeting that agreement?'”

If part of the World Fuels Charter’s aim is to assist the car industry in meeting its GHG emission targets, then it’s no surprise that European oil refiners are asking questions about whether the Charter will make their own GHG emission reduction efforts more difficult.

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