13 December 2001

In its meeting in Brussels yesterday, the European Environment Council reached political agreement on the proposal to introduce sulfur-free diesel and petrol (gasoline) in every Member State. In the first phase, effective 1 January 2005, sulfur free fuels would have to be available on the market in parallel with fuels conforming to existing sulfur specifications. From 1 January 2009, only sulfur-free gasoline and diesel would be sold. However, in the case of diesel, the 2009 deadline is subject to confirmation subsequent to a review by the European Commission to be completed no later than 31 December 2005.

The term sulfur-free fuel denotes fuels of sulfur content below 10 ppm (by weight), both for diesel and gasoline. The proposal, if adopted by the EU Parliament, will modify the Directive 98/70/EC, which regulates the quality of fuels. Current sulfur levels are 150 ppm for gasoline and 350 ppm for diesel (both fuels 50 ppm effective 2005).

After adoption of the proposal, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: “Sulfur-free fuels will speed the introduction of the latest fuel-efficient technologies in cars and other vehicles. This will significantly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide the most important greenhouse gas. 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.”

These new emission control technologies include NOx adsorbers, which, in turn, enable the introduction of lean burn, direct injection gasoline (GDI) engines, which have superior fuel economy in comparison to the stoichiometric burn technology. 10 ppm sulfur fuel is also expected to enable commercialization of particulate filters and NOx adsorbers on diesel engines. Sulfur-free fuels would also minimize sulfur-related deactivation of emission control catalysts in existing vehicles.

In 1999 and 2000, the European Commission concluded agreements with the European, Korean and Japanese car manufacturers to reduce the CO2 emissions from new cars. These commitments were made on the basis of the fuel quality specifications in the Directive 98/70/EC, although the car manufacturers indicated an expectation that fuels with a lower sulfur content of 30 ppm would be available. The Commission said, it will take into account the impact of sulfur-free fuels in regards to the manufacturers’ commitment of 140 g CO2/km. Furthermore, the Commission will explore with the automobile manufacturers the potential for additional commitments towards the attainment of the Community’s target of 120 g CO2/km for the new car fleet average when the current commitments are reviewed in 2003.

In the same meeting, the Environment Ministers decided against extending sulfur-free fuels to non-road vehicles, such as farm tractors and construction machinery. Such move would cause substantial fuel cost increase for European farmers.

The oil industry estimated that upgrading refineries to produce 10 ppm S fuels would cost about €11 billion ($9.8 billion). However, the oil industry has not opposed conforming with the new fuel standards. The industry and the Commission acknowledged that new refining techniques that will be needed will increase emissions of CO2 from fuel manufacturing.

Source: European Commission