Oil firms blast EU sulphur-free fuels drive

Push will fragment fuel market, hindering carbon reduction objectives, warns Europia

Mounting pressure in the EU for sulphur-free vehicle fuels could lead to a net increase in overall carbon dioxide emissions, according to the European association of oil refiners, Europia. Addressing an international fuels conference in Brussels yesterday, Europia president Jean-Paul Vettier claimed there was a creeping fragmentation of the European fuel market. He pushed for more emphasis on renewing car fleets rather than cutting fuel sulphur levels further.

Mr Vettier was responding to a recent push by Germany for the EU to require all motor fuels to be sulphur free from 2007 (ENDS Daily 13 October 1999) as well as German plans to introduce tax incentives for such fuels even earlier, which are still being considered by the European Commission (ENDS Daily 24 January). Coming so soon after approval of the major 1998 EU fuel quality law, the developments surprised the European Commission, which hastily organised a "sulphur review" alongside the second Auto/Oil research programme.

According to Mr Vettier, focusing on sulphur-free fuels before vehicle technology had matured would force refiners to produce various fuels for a range of possible future technologies and markets, even though some would "prove useless and irrelevant" in the long run. "If the production of these enabling fuels requires more complex and energy-consuming processing, this will result in additional CO2 emissions from the refineries [which] needs to be balanced against the saving expected at the vehicle level," he said. Increased transport of fuels from particular refineries to particular markets would increase emissions even further, he said.

Mr Vettier added that although refinery energy efficiency had increased by 1% annually over the last decade, the level of CO2 emissions per barrel of oil refined had increased due to more complex processing. One fuel desulphurisation unit in Antwerp consumed as much energy as a town of 50,000, he added. Instead of introducing sulphur-free fuel, he said, a faster renewal of the car fleet was now "a key factor for accelerating the improvement of air quality in towns."

Follow Up:
Europia, tel: +32 2 226 1911; see also Mr Vettier's speech, and information on the World Fuels Conference.

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