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European Commission Proposes Lower Carbon Fuel Standards

The European Commission today proposed new standards for transport fuels that, among other measures, require suppliers to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the production, transport and use of their fuels by 10% between 2011 and 2020.

This life-cycle based approach to lower carbon fuels echoes the new California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) ordered by Governor Schwarzenegger that also requires, as an initial goal, a 10% reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) intensity of all passenger vehicle fuels sold in California by 2020. (Earlier post.)

The Commission said that its proposal to revise the existing 1998 fuel quality directive reflects developments in fuel and engine technology, the growing importance of biofuels and the need both to meet the air quality goals set out in the 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution and to further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.

Achieving the EC’s goal of a 10% reduction would cut emissions by 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020—equivalent to the total combined emissions of Spain and Sweden today.

Key elements of the directive include:

  • The 10% reduction in life-cycle GHG emissions. Starting in 2011, suppliers will have to reduce emissions per unit of energy by 1% a year from 2010 levels. This will result in a 10% cut—relative to 2010—by 2020.

  • A new gasoline blend. To enable a higher volume of biofuels to be used in gasoline, the proposal establishes a separate gasoline blend with a higher permitted content of oxygenates, including up to 10% ethanol. The different gasoline blends will be clearly marked to avoid fuelling vehicles with incompatible fuel.

    To compensate for an increase in VOCs emissions that will result from greater use of ethanol, the Commission will also propose the mandatory introduction of vapor recovery equipment at filling stations later this year.

  • Ultra low-sulfur diesel. From 31 December 2008, all on-road diesel fuel marketed will have to have an ultra-low sulfur content of no more than 10 parts per million. From 31 December 2009, all off-road diesel fuel will also have to have the ultra low 10 ppm sulfur content, down from the current 1,000 ppm (in 2008). Fuel for inland waterway barges (also currently at 1,000 ppm in 2008) must hit 300 ppm by 31 December 2009, and 10 ppm by 31 December 2011.

  • PAH reduction. From 1 January 2009, the maximum permitted content of poly aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is to be reduced by one-third. This may reduce emissions not only of PAHs, some of which may cause cancer, but also of particulate matter.

  • Reduced Sulfur Off-road and marine diesel. The permitted sulphur content of diesel for use by non-road machinery and inland waterway barges will also be substantially cut.

This is one of the most important measures in the series of new initiatives the Commission needs to take to step up the fight against global climate change. It is a concrete test of our political commitment to leadership on climate policy and our capacity to translate political priorities into concrete measures. It will further underpin Europe’s shift towards the low-carbon economy that is essential if we are to prevent climate change from reaching dangerous proportions. These proposals will also help achieve a significant reduction in the noxious pollutants from transport that can harm our citizens’ health, as well as opening the way for a major expansion in the use of biofuels, especially second generation biofuels.

—Stavros Dimas, Environment Commissioner

Major changes to technical specifications proposed
Parameter Old value New value
Maximum permitted oxygen content in gasoline 2.7% by mass 3.7% by mass in “high biofuel petrol”
Maximum ethanol content 5% by volume 10% by volume in “high biofuel petrol”
Other oxygenates Varied between 3 and 15% All increased by a comparable amount in “high biofuel petrol” except methanol.
Sulfur content of on-road diesel Currently 50 ppm. Provisionally 10 ppm from 1 January 2009 10 ppm from 31 December 2008
Sulfur content of off-road diesel 1,000 ppm from 2008 10 ppm from 31 December 2009
Sulfur content of inland waterway diesel 1,000 ppm from 2008 300 ppm from 31 December 2009
10ppm from 31 December 2011
Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbon content of diesel 11% by mass 8% by mass

European environmental groups welcomed the proposed lower-carbon fuel standards, but continued to criticize the Commission for its failure to announce a legally-binding target for car fuel efficiency. (Earlier post.)

Until now Europe’s approach to alternatives like biofuels has been to promote them regardless of whether or not they are good or bad for the environment. If it’s designed right this commitment to reducing carbon emissions will ensure that only the cleanest biofuels are promoted and the production process of fossil fuels is cleaned up. That is a very good approach and we welcome it.

—Jos Dings, director of Transport & Environment



Mandating oil companies to lower the use of the fuels they supply?

Is this like telling Burger King they aren't allowed to sell triple whoppers to fat people?


"Is this like telling Burger King they aren't allowed to sell triple whoppers to fat people?"
Well, maybe they should consider doing that, it'd ease the burden on the health care system...


The use of the 2010 benchmark date is a little troubling. It provides a short-term incentive to make no progress on the efficiency front, or even to make 2010 a banner-year for inefficiency, in order to make the subsequent cuts from that baseline easier to acheive. It is usually better to used data from years that are safely in the past for baselining purposes.

Rafael Seidl


the 2010 baseline relates to the fuel itself, not the vehicles that burn it. The total GWP associated with each unit of transportation fuel is supposed to go down by 1% each year relative to that baseline, through 2020. This is quite separate from the issue of how far that unit of fuel will let you travel.

The wording is a little abstract, but it gives the oil & gas industry a whole slew of options to achieve this goal:

- work with the auto industry to promote the new HBP grade and invest in cellulosic ethanol and/or biobutanol production technology

- work with the auto industry to ramp up the blend fraction of biodiesel and/or BTL

- invest in efficiency improvements in gasification and Fischer-Tropsch/MTG technologies used for GTL, including the application of H2 produced using high-temperature electrolysis based on low-CO2 electricity generation capacity (nuclear, hydro, solar, combined-cycle gas, coal + algaculture/sequestration, geothermal, ...)

- work with the auto industry to ramp up CNG use and set up distribution networks for it

- invest in biogas production and purification technology

- work with HDV fleet operators (e.g. refrigeration trucks) to ramp up the direct use of LNG, may also make sense for freshwater shipping and non-electric locomotives

- invest in energy efficiency measures at refineries, including biorefineries

- invest in energy efficiency measures in fuel distribution, e.g. corrosion-resistant pipelines for ethanol and blends containing it

- invest in projects to reduce the flaring of associated gas at oil wellheads in remote locations (a HUGE opportunity in GHG terms)

- work with auto industry to deliver PHEV / BEV vehicles and invest in both battery manufacturing and low-CO2 electricity generation capacity (see above)

- work with auto industry to ramp up FCV deployments, invest in H2 production via high-temperature electrolysis based on low-CO2 electricity generation capacity (see above) and set up a distribution infrastructure for it that is impervious to hydrogen embrittling (VERY expensive)

- work with aviation operators to switch to short-hop BWB cargo aircraft powered by LH2 and fuel cells; might require airports to offer take-off assist systems

- if the above are not enough, pressure politicians to extend global carbon cap-and-trade mechanism beyond 2012 and buy emissions certificates on the market to shift the GHG reduction burden to other industries

John Baldwin

Get 10 % of all new vehicles to run on natural gas (dedicated CNG for cars, duel fuel for trucks). That will sort it.

Rafael Seidl

John -

the H/C ratio of methane is 4, for gasoline and diesel it's closer to 2. So switching 10% of the fleet to CNG or LNG would, on the face of it, reduce the CO2 footprint of the fuel mix by 5%. In practice, it's a little less than that because of the energy overhead of compressing or liquefying the gas to ensure adequate vehicle range, but clearly it is a useful option.

In particular, HDV designs featuring CNG or LNG tanks that double as load-bearing elements of the chassis would make sense, if regulators can be persuaded of their crash safety. HDV operators want to stop for fuel as infrequently as possible.

Wrt engine reliability, MAN recently introduced an ignition concept based on a small pre-chamber with glow plug to eliminate the spark plugs. This was developed for stationary power generators but could be applied to mobile natural gas engines as well.

Direct injection systems for natural gas are expected soon and will likely replace the current port fuel injection technology, which displaces air in the intake manifold and therefore lowers the specific rated power of the engine. In CNG passenger cars, whose engines are typically operated in part load, this is used to limit throttling losses. HDV engines, on the other hand, are usually operated at high load so direct injection would be valuable.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the adoption of CNG (or LNG) technology in HDVs is the lack of a pan-European taxation policy for the fuel. This means the distribution infrastructure is very patchy: Italy and Germany are well ahead of everyone else. Dual fuel capability is theoretically a possibility, but diesel injectors and exhaust gas aftertreatment on top of a CNG or LNG tank would be prohibitively expensive - as would running a truck on gasoline. Besides, monovalent natural gas operation permits higher compression ratios than gasoline and, large NG engines are almost always based on diesel engine components.

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