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Brussels, 31 January 2007

Stricter fuel standards to combat climate change and reduce air pollution

The European Commission today proposed new standards for transport fuels that will reduce their contribution to climate change and air pollution, including through greater use of biofuels. The changes underscore the Commission's commitment to ensuring that the EU combats climate change and air pollution effectively. The proposed standards will not only make the fuels themselves 'cleaner' but will also allow the introduction of vehicles and machinery that pollute less. A key measure foreseen is that, to encourage the development of lower-carbon fuels and biofuels, suppliers will have to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the production, transport and use of their fuels by 10% between 2011 and 2020. This will cut emissions by 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020 - equivalent to the total combined emissions of Spain and Sweden today. A new petrol blend will be established allowing higher content of the biofuel ethanol, and sulphur levels in diesel and gasoil will be cut to reduce emissions of dangerous dust particles.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "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."

What the new standards will achieve

  • A reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions of 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020
  • An improvement in the quality of transport fuels and promotion of "second generation" biofuels that will bring bigger emission savings
  • Better public health through a reduction in noxious pollutants, in particular due to lower sulphur content of diesel.

Importance of fuel quality specifications

The 1998 fuel quality directive[1] sets common EU specifications for petrol, diesel and gasoil used in road vehicles, inland waterway barges and non-road mobile machinery such as locomotives, earth moving machinery and tractors. Its aim is to protect human health and the environment and ensure a single market in these fuels. The Commission's proposal to revise the 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 (see IP/05/1170) and to further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.

Proposed changes

The revised directive will introduce an obligation for fuel suppliers to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that their fuels cause over their life-cycle, ie when they are refined, transported and used. From 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 by 2020.

This obligation will promote the further development of low-carbon fuels and other measures to reduce emissions from the fuel production chain, and will help ensure that the fuel sector contributes to achieving the EU's greenhouse gas reduction goals.

To enable a higher volume of biofuels to be used in petrol, a separate petrol blend will be established with a higher permitted content of oxygen-containing additives (so-called oxygenates), including up to 10% ethanol. The different petrol blends will be clearly marked to avoid fuelling vehicles with incompatible fuel. To compensate for an increase in emissions of polluting vapours that will result from greater use of ethanol, the Commission will put forward a proposal for the mandatory introduction of vapour recovery equipment at filling stations later this year. These vapours, known as volatile organic compounds, contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone pollution, which can cause premature death in people with breathing difficulties or heart problems.

From 1 January 2009 all diesel fuel marketed will have to have an ultra-low sulphur content (no more than 10 parts per million). This will cut pollutant emissions, primarily of dust particles ('particulate matter'), the air pollutant most dangerous for human health. This sulphur reduction will in particular facilitate the introduction of new pollution-control equipment such as particle filters on diesel vehicles. From the same date, the maximum permitted content of another dangerous substance in diesel, poly aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), will be reduced by one-third. This may reduce emissions not only of PAHs, some of which may cause cancer, but also of particulate matter.

The permitted sulphur content of gasoil for use by non-road machinery and inland waterway barges will also be substantially cut. This too will reduce emissions of particulate matter and allow the introduction of more advanced engines and emission control equipment.

The costs of the different elements have been assessed and, overall, the changes proposed are justified on a cost-benefit analysis.

Further information

Full details of the assessment of the benefits and the technical issues associated with the review of the directive are available at:


Main changes to technical specifications proposed

Old value
New value
Maximum permitted oxygen content in petrol
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.
Sulphur content of road transport diesel
Currently 50ppm. Provisionally 10ppm from 1/1/2009
10ppm from 31/12/2008.
Sulphur content of non-road machinery gas-oil
1000ppm from 2008
10ppm from 31/12/2009.
Sulphur content of inland waterway gas-oil
1000ppm from 2008
300ppm from 31/12/2009
10ppm from 31/12/2011
Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbon content of diesel
11% by mass
8% by mass

ppm = parts per million

[1] Directive 98/70/EC relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and amending Council Directive 93/12/EC

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