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Quality of petrol and diesel fuels: sulphur and lead

To reduce pollution from car emissions, the European Union (EU) has introduced environmental specifications applicable to fuels: a ban on the marketing of leaded petrol and the obligation to make sulphur-free fuels available within the Union. Moreover, the use of biofuels is becoming a necessity in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

ACT

Directive 98/70/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 October 1998 relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and amending Council Directive 93/12/EEC [See amending acts].

SUMMARY

This Directive meets the commitment given in Directive 94/12/EC that target values would be adopted involving a substantial reduction in pollutant emissions from motor vehicles.

Types of vehicle covered by the Directive

The Directive sets the environmental specifications to be applied to fuels for road vehicles and non-road mobile machinery (including inland waterway vessels when not at sea), agricultural and forestry tractors, and recreational craft when not at sea.

Petrol standards

The standards relating to petrol are detailed in Annex I to this Directive.

Since the year 2000, the marketing of leaded petrol has been banned.

Until 2013, suppliers must place on the market petrol with a maximum oxygen content of 2.7 % and a maximum ethanol content of 5 %.

Derogations may be applied for the outermost regions for the introduction of petrol with a maximum sulphur content of 10 mg/kg. Member States also have the option to place on the market petrol with a maximum vapour pressure of 70 kPa during the summer period. However, the Commission must assess the desirability and duration of the derogation.

Diesel fuel standards

The standards relating to diesel fuel are detailed in Annex II to this Directive.

The sulphur content of gas oils intended for use by non-road mobile machinery must not exceed 1 000 mg/kg. From 1 January 2011, the sulphur content must not exceed 10mg/kg.

However, certain derogations are possible for the outermost regions and for Member States with severe winter weather. In the case of the latter, the maximum distillation point of 65 % at 250 °C for diesel fuels and gas oils may be replaced by a maximum distillation point of 10 % at 180 °C.

Greenhouse gas emissions reductions

Certain suppliers are designated by Member States to be responsible for monitoring and reporting life cycle greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy from fuel and energy supplied.

With effect from 1 January 2011, suppliers shall report annually, to the authority designated by the Member State, on the greenhouse gas intensity of fuel and energy supplied within each Member State

Suppliers are required to gradually reduce life cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 10 % by 31 December 2020 at the latest. The Directive provides intermediary objectives for the course of this time period.

Biofuels: sustainability criteria

The biofuels taken into account shall not be made from the following raw materials:

  • primary forests and other wooded land;
  • designated areas;
  • highly biodiverse grassland;
  • raw materials with high carbon stock.

The greenhouse gas emission saving from the use of biofuels must reach 35 %. With effect from 1 January 2017, the saving must reach 50 % and 60 % from 2018 onwards.

Member States must comply with the sustainability criteria for biofuels. To this end, they shall subject economic operators to a number of requirements.

REFERENCES

ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal

Directive 98/70/EC

28.12.1998

1.7.1999

OJ L 350 of 28.12.1998

Amending act(s)Entry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal

Directive 2000/71/EC

4.12.2000

1.1.2001

OJ L 287 of 14.11.2000

Directive 2003/17/EC

22.3.2003

30.6.2003

OJ L 76 of 22.3.2003

Regulation (EC) No 1882/2003

20.11.2003

-

OJ L 284 of 31.10.2003

Directive 2009/30/EC

25.6.2009

31.12.2010

OJ L 140 of 5.6.1010

The successive amendments and corrections to Directive 98/70/EC have been incorporated in the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

RELATED ACTS

Reports

Report from the Commission of 1 December 2008: Quality of petrol and diesel fuel used for road transport in the European Union: Fifth annual report (Reporting year 2006) [COM(2008) 799 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The specifications defined for petrol and diesel fuels by Directive 98/70/EC were in general met in 2006. Very few exceedances were identified. The Commission emphasises that the share of <10 ppm and <50 ppm sulphur fuels increased significantly from 2001 to 2006, and that most Member States are now selling sulphur-free fuels. However, the Commission notes problems related to the absence of labelling of fuels complying with this criterion. It explains that this aspect is an obstacle to the spread of vehicles using this type of fuel, which would have a beneficial effect on the environment in terms of lower pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the Commission regrets that most Member States did not provide precise information as to the geographical availability of sulphur-free fuels.

Commission report of 17 October 2007: Quality of petrol and diesel fuel used for road transport in the European Union: Fourth annual report (reporting year 2005) [COM(2007) 617 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
All Member States except France submitted national reports for 2005. This year, once again, no limits have been reported as having been exceeded. Nevertheless, the sulphur content of diesel fuel proved particularly problematic in 2005, principally in those countries which joined the EU in 2004, due to the entry into force of the new mandatory <50 ppm level on 1 January 2005. The report also shows that the proportion of fuel with a sulphur content of less than 10 ppm and 50 ppm increased between 2001 and 2005 in EU Member States prior to the 2004 enlargement. The Commission stressed, once again, the problem of disparity between national systems for monitoring fuel quality.

Report from the Commission of 28 April 2006: Quality of petrol and diesel fuel used for road transport in the European Union - Third annual Report (Reporting year 2004) [COM(2006) 186 final – Official Journal C 151 of 29.6.2006].
As in the previous year, very few incidences of non-compliance can be noted and the Commission has not received any information to indicate negative repercussions for vehicle emissions or engine functioning. There has been little progress made concerning the proportion of fuel with a sulphur content of <10 ppm and <50 ppm between 2003 and 2004 and EU enlargement has triggered a slight reduction in the proportion of such fuels in the total fuel supply. Nevertheless, the absence of the qualities defined for sulphur-free or low-sulphur fuels limits consumers’ opportunities to choose these fuels, with negative repercussions for the launching of vehicles using these fuels. There continues to be a problem of disparity between national monitoring systems for the quality of fuels.

Report from the Commission of 2 March 2005 - Quality of petrol and diesel fuel used for road transport in the European Union - Second annual Report (Reporting year 2003) [COM(2005) 69 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
Fuel quality monitoring in 2003 shows that the specifications for petrol and diesel laid down in Directive 98/70/EC have generally been met. Very few incidences of non-compliance have been reported and the Commission has no indication of any negative repercussions for vehicle emissions or engine functioning due to these violations. The share of fuels with a sulphur content of <10 and <50 ppm increased significantly from 2001 to 2003. Given the considerable disparity between national fuel quality monitoring systems, harmonisation is necessary to obtain transparent and comparable results.

Report from the Commission of 27 April 2004 - Quality of petrol and diesel fuel used for road transport in the European Union – First annual report (Reporting years 2001-2002) [COM(2004) 310 final – Official Journal C 122 of 30.4.2004].
This first report shows that during the period 2001-02, non-compliance with the provisions relating to petrol and diesel were infrequent in Member States. Measures aimed at ensuring compliance with these provisions should be adopted by those countries which have yet to do so. The proportion of fuels with a sulphur content of < 50 ppm increased considerably during this period, while that of fuels with a sulphur content of < 10 ppm remained almost unchanged. Furthermore, a number of Member States have not yet introduced low-sulphur (< 50 ppm) or sulphur-free (<10 ppm) fuels, marketed separately. The report underlines the fact that there is considerable difference between national fuel quality monitoring systems and that transparent and comparable results would depend on greater harmonisation.

Recommendation

Commission Recommendation of 12 January 2005 on what, for the purposes of Directive 98/70/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning petrol and diesel fuels, constitutes availability of unleaded petrol and diesel fuel with a maximum sulphur content on an appropriately balanced geographical basis [Official Journal L 15 of 19.1.2005].
The Commission provides guidelines to help Member States ensure that non-sulphur fuels are available within their territories, with parameters including the proportion of refuelling stations supplying sulphur-free fuel per region and the average distance between refuelling stations supplying sulphur-free fuel.

This summary is for information only. It is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.

Last updated: 22.07.2010
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