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European Automakers Question Aspects of New EU Fuel Quality Directive

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) has raised several technical issues with the fuel quality directive adopted by the European Parliament earlier in December as part of the climate change package. Among the elements of the fuel quality directive is a low carbon fuel standard. (Earlier post).

ACEA’s technical concerns with the fuel quality directive fall into three categories: metallic additives; biofuel blends and labelling; and fuel specifications.

The vehicle industry strongly supports the proposed setting of mandatory targets for fuel suppliers to reduce by 2020 their life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions. This is a necessary part of an integrated approach to reducing CO2 emissions. However, the adopted report leaves a number of important issues incomplete, which could result in a fragmented internal market for fuels and lead to consumer confusion at the filling station.

—Ivan Hodac, Secretary General of the ACEA

Metallic additives. The fuel quality directive failed to ban metallic additives in gasoline, as ACEA had supported. ACEA has called for the total ban on the use of metallic additives, such as the manganese-based MMT (Methylcyclopentadienyl Manganese Tricarbonyl) and iron-based ferrocene in gasoline for two primary reasons:

  • Metallic additives such as MMT (which are used to boost the octane rating of lower octane fuel) degrade the performance of expensive exhaust catalysts, sensors in the exhaust stream, fuel injectors, spark plugs etc. This means higher and unnecessary pollutant emissions and the likelihood that a vehicle’s on-board diagnostic (OBD) system will eventually register an emission system fault and inform the driver via the dashboard OBD light, due to no fault other than the fuel in the tank.

    This results in unnecessary visits to the workshop to repair a fault which is not the result of a failure on the vehicle. Since the legal requirements for the performance and durability of catalytic converters is becoming more stringent, the deterioration (by blocking) of catalysts under customer driving conditions due to metallic additives is expected. Since 1991, all new gasoline-engined vehicles in the EU have been fitted with exhaust catalysts and since January 2000, all new gasoline-engined vehicles have been equipped with an OBD system.

  • Developing major world markets such as China are introducing more stringent pollutant emissions legislation and they are following European standards. EU manufacturers are selling high technology vehicles in these markets and the EU industry is highly competitive in these markets. ACEA says that the quality of the fuel in these markets is not what it could be and manganese has been observed in Chinese market fuel. ACEA has been pressing these markets to ensure they provide widespread access to market fuel of the right quality in parallel to the introduction of more stringent Euro-emission standards.

Both the European Council and the European parliament had originally supported a ban on the use of MMT in European gasoline. MMT is manufactured exclusively by US-based Afton Chemical, and the ACEA charges that the European Commission gave into the lobbying of the US government on behalf of Afton.

Although European gasoline does not in general contain MMT, it has been observed in gasoline samples in Belgium, Romania and Malta. The ACEA said that it will keep working with EU policy makers toward a ban on the use of metallic additives as soon as possible.

Biofuel blends and labelling. The fuel quality directive is structured such that while European diesel can have a maximum of 7% fatty acid methyl ester (FAME, biodiesel), individual member states can market diesel with a FAME content greater than 7%.

For the automobile industry, this is a crazy situation. It means that different Member States can have different diesel quality in their territory without any standardisation. This bypasses the whole idea of having a single European standard in the internal market. Consumers need to have access to a consistent fuel quality across the EU. The position of ACEA is that we do not accept the use of diesel with more than 7% FAME in our vehicles due to valid technical reasons.

—ACEA statement

In June 2008, ACEA made a commitment that from 2010 all new gasoline vehicles will be compatible with gasoline containing a maximum of 10% ethanol (E10) and all new diesel vehicles will be compatible with diesel containing a maximum of 7% FAME (B7).

ACEA also expressed concern about an insufficient level of information to consumers regarding the biofuel content of both gasoline and diesel. Under the directive, “appropriate information” is required, but specific labelling of the filling station pump will not be mandatory.

There is no definition of “appropriate information” which means that these statements could be merely complied with by a government or oil company leaflet or a simple note on an obscure website. ACEA views this as totally insufficient for the consumer to know what fuel he should be putting into his vehicle, old or new.

The ACEA calls for distinct labelling of E10 to avoid customer confusion. Given the potential variability in FAME content, the ACEA said that it is “absolutely essential” that diesel pumps at the filling station are properly labelled with their FAME content.

Fuel specifications. The directive allows Member States to request a derogation against meeting the summer period maximum vapour pressure limit of 60kPa for fuels containing bio-ethanol.

The ACEA says that this is “completely unnecessary”, given that the European oil industry (EUROPIA) has said that all companies can meet the 60kPa limit without any need for a waiver.

Derogations will result in an increase in hydrocarbon emissions in the summer period which the Commission must act against.

The other issue ACEA raises concerns oxygenates for gasoline. Although it supports the increase in the maximum ethanol content to 10%, it does not agree with the increase in other oxygenates, “especially as they are not even bio-oxygenates”.

ACEA remains concerned that these levels of oxygenates (they are higher than the oxygenate specifications for today’s petrol) will result in some compatibility issues with the materials of vehicle fuelling systems. Vehicle driveability is also expected to be a concern. Vehicle manufacturers do not accept responsibility in cases of deterioration or failure using petrol with these levels of oxygenates.

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