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U.S. wants to cut sulfur from diesel

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it wants the sulfur content of diesel fuel slashed by 97 per cent in six years, in the environmental regulator's la...

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it wants the sulfur content of diesel fuel slashed by 97 per cent in six years, in the environmental regulator’s latest bid to clean up truck exhaust. And the move is expected to push the introduction of such things as catalytic converters into trucks.

Environment Canada officials, who are already in the midst of a process to determine whether Canadian vehicle fuel needs to face any new restrictions, are “closely watching” the U.S. decision, a spokesman confirms.

Where sulfur in on-road diesel reaches 500 parts per million (ppm) in the U.S., that is to by cut to 15 ppm by June 2006. New trucks and buses will need to meet related emission standards beginning in 2007, with full compliance by 2010.

“This proposal allows adequate lead time and flexibility for industry to meet the new standards,” said EPA administrator Carol Browner, announcing the plan. “In the past, engine manufacturers have been able to meet permissive emission standards without the aid of control devices. However, the stringent standards in this proposal will result in the first broad use of emission control devices such as three-way catalysts and soot traps on these engines.”

Once fully implemented, the proposal will reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 95 per cent, and cut particulate matter, or soot, by 90 per cent, according to the EPA.

If trucks are to begin using pollution control devices such as catalytic converters, the fuel has to be significantly cleaner than it is today, the regulator adds.

Canada’s on-road diesel has been limited to a maximum sulfur content of 500 ppm since 1998, says Bruce McEwen of Environment Canada’s oil, gas and energy branch. While there are no federal or provincial regulations controlling the sulfur content of off-road fuel, there is a voluntary standard of 5,000 ppm. (Montreal has a bylaw that requires off-road trucks to use the cleaner diesel.)

Ironically, Canada has already launched a process to study vehicle fuel, and will hold a workshop in Toronto in late May to look at what kind of new or tightened controls – if any – need to be added, McEwen confirms.

For now, Canada’s most public interest in the sulfur content of fuel has been linked to gasoline. On May 11, Environment Minister David Anderson rejected a proposal from the Canadian Petroleum Product Institute to relax the sulfur restrictions in gasoline produced by Imperial Oil and Petro Canada.

“In the interest of fairness to the other companies that have made and are making investments to comply with the current regulations, I am bringing this matter to a close,” Anderson said. “It is time to get on with the job and assure Canadians that this government and the petroleum industry are taking the steps necessary to improve the air they breathe.”

Where the average sulfur content of today’s gasoline is 340 ppm, regulations passed last June require the content to drop to 150 ppm in 2002, and to 30 ppm by 2004.

The U.S. proposal for diesel, however, hasn’t found universal acceptance.

“The trucking industry will not watch from the sidelines as we are singled out for far more stringent regulation while extreme sources of pollution have yet to do their fair share,” noted Walter McCormick, Jr., president of the American Trucking Associations. “For instance, emissions from diesel railroad, construction, and farm equipment are double that of heavy-duty diesel trucks. To achieve the cleanest, most cost-effective and equitable protection of our air, EPA must require all diesel engine users to use the same clean fuel.

“To pile on a rule that could raise the cost of a diesel truck engine by thousands of dollars and drive up the price of diesel fuel by yet another 20 cents a (US) gallon would force many in our industry off the road.”

Some of those who make the equipment have come out supporting the plan, saying that cleaner fuel is key to meeting ever-tightening emission requirements.

“The availability of low-sulfur fuel will allow society to take advantage of the fuel efficiency, durability and performance offered by diesel power while achieving clean air goals,” International said in a prepared statement. “Low-sulfur diesel fuel is a technology enabler that is critical to make continued improvements in diesel engine emissions technology.”

The company has recently been demonstrating its Green Diesel Technology – low-emissions equipment with an aftertreatment system that relies on fuel with a sulfur content of under 15 parts per million.

International likens the need for low-sulfur diesel fuel to the need for unleaded gasoline that was released in 1975, after leaded gasoline was found to damage catalytic converters on cars.

The EPA has for the first time recognized that engines and fuel are both parts of an integrated system, added David Bartlett, spokesman for the Diesel Technology Forum.

A heavy truck made in 2000 emits 88 per cent less pollution than its counterparts of 15 years ago. n

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