EU proposes 10 ppm sulfur limit in diesel, gasoline fuels

May 12, 2001

The European Commission (EC) adopted a proposal to introduce sulfur-free diesel and petrol (gasoline) fuels in every Member State from January 1, 2005. The use of zero sulfur gasoline will be mandatory effective 2011. A date for zero sulfur diesel fuel becoming mandatory will be established as part of a later review.

The terms “zero sulfur” and “sulfur-free” fuels refer to gasoline and diesel which contain less than 10 ppm (by weight) of sulfur.

After adoption of the proposal on May 11, 2001, the Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: “This is a good day for the environment. The availability of sulfur-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.”

The proposal is based on the results of a consultation (“Call for Evidence”), conducted by the EC among stakeholders last year. These sulfur-free fuels are being proposed primarily to enable advanced emission control technologies that are sulfur intolerant, such as NOx adsorber catalysts for both gasoline and diesel engines. These technologies are believed to enable the introduction of more fuel-efficient cars and other vehicles, significantly reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas.

The Community’s strategy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve fuel economy of new passenger cars sold in the EU includes a target of 120 g/km CO2 as an average emission for the new car fleet. A major element of this strategy was the conclusion of agreements with the European, Japanese and Korean automobile manufacturers to attain a new car average emissions of 140 g/km CO2 by 2008/2009.

Car manufacturers organizations worldwide have been calling for sulfur-free fuels as means of meeting future vehicle emission standards and introducing reduced fuel consumption engines. These views were expressed in the revised World-Wide Fuel Charter published in April 2000 by a coalition of trade organizations, including European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA), and Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA).

The environmental specifications of fuels in the European Community are set by the Directive 98/70/EC, adopted in 1998 following the Auto-Oil I program. From January 1, 2000, the Directive set the maximum permissible sulfur content of gasoline at 150 ppm and that of diesel at 350 ppm. These limits will be reduced to 50 ppm on January 1, 2005 for both gasoline and diesel fuel.

For comparison, the current sulfur level in highway diesel fuel in the US is 500 ppm, to be lowered to 15 ppm by mid-2006. Contrary to the environmental policies in the EU, energy efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions from mobile sources are not a concern in the US. Rather, the 15 ppm sulfur fuel is introduced primarily to enable more efficient NOx and PM control from heavy-duty diesel engines.

Sulfur-free (10 ppm S) fuel has been used in Sweden for more than a decade. More recently, it has been introduced in the UK. Both countries supported sulfur-free fuels by tax incentive programs. Germany is expected to introduce similar tax incentives for sulfur-free fuels in the near future.