Sulphur limits for road fuels agreed

A Directive laying down deadlines for the introduction of "zero-sulphur" petrol and diesel was agreed in conciliation negotiations between the Council of Ministers and European Parliament in December.

Zero-sulphur fuels with a maximum sulphur content of 10ppm are needed for the next generation of emission abatement technology, such as particulate traps and NOx absorbers, the efficiency of which is impaired by sulphur.

Under existing EU legislation, the maximum sulphur content of petrol and diesel is to be cut to 50ppm in 2005. The new Directive obliges Member States to ensure that zero-sulphur fuel is available "on an appropriately balanced geographical basis" from January 2005 to service vehicles with advanced emission abatement equipment, with the transition being completed by January 2009 - two years earlier than originally proposed by the Commission.

Parliament failed in its bid to secure the same standards and deadlines for fuel used in off-road equipment and tractors. Instead, decisions on this will be taken following a wide-ranging Commission review of fuel quality standards in 2005 - though the Directive provides that standards for off-road fuels "shall" be aligned with the on-road sector "by a certain date, currently expected to be 1 January 2009."

In a subsequent proposal on emission standards for diesel engines used in off-road machinery, the Commission confirmed that the goal will be a sulphur limit of 10ppm, since this will almost certainly be needed to facilitate compliance with new limits on particulate emissions which it wants to take effect in 2010 (see p 53 ).

However, the Directive also leaves open the possibility that introduction of the 10ppm limit for on-road diesels could be delayed "in order to ensure that there is no overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions." Producing zero-sulphur diesel increases refinery emissions of carbon dioxide by around 5%, and the review due in 2005 will evaluate developments in refining technology and the rate of penetration of more fuel-efficient models into the diesel fleet.

Other issues for the review will include standards to promote alternative fuels such as biofuels, and the impact of metallic additives on the performance of emission abatement technologies.

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