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EU Government Proposes Low Carbon Transport Fuel Standard

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 31, 2007 (ENS) - The European Commission today proposed new standards for transport fuels that will reduce their contribution to climate change and air pollution through greater use of biofuels.

The proposed standards will not only make the fuels themselves cleaner but will also allow the introduction of vehicles and machinery that pollute less, said the Commission, which is the executive branch of the European Union government.

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."

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Rush hour on Britain's A1 Gateshead Western Bypass (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
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 percent between 2011 and 2020.

The new standards are expected to achieve a reduction in the European Union's greenhouse gas emissions of 500 million metric tons 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 sulfur levels in diesel and gasoil will be cut to reduce emissions of dangerous dust particles.

Better public health is expected through a reduction in noxious pollutants, in particular due to lower sulfur content of diesel.

"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," said Dimas, ahead of Friday's release of a major report by hundreds of scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

These proposals will open the way for a major expansion in the use of biofuels, especially "second generation biofuels," Dimas said. These are biofuels created by thermochemical conversion such as gasification, which allow the use of a much wider range of raw materials.

The new fuel standards were announced just three weeks after a similar plan was ordered by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California.

Environmental groups from across Europe welcomed the Commission's plans to introduce carbon reduction targets for transport fuels but criticized the failure to announce a legally-binding target for car fuel efficiency following intervention by the German car industry last week.

This criticism came in a joint statement from BirdLife International, Transport and Environment, and the European Environmental Bureau with its 143 member organizations in 31 countries.

Reacting to the proposed new fuel standards, Jos Dings director of Transport and Environment said, "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."

The fuel announcement was set to be published in parallel with a communication on future legally binding targets for car fuel efficiency. But those plans were postponed following complaints from the German automotive industry.

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Cars and trucks on the German Autobahn (Photo courtesy Germany Ministry of Finance)
The German Association of the Automotive Industry, VDA, said January 22, that climate policy in the traffic sector must be cost-efficient and competition neutral. "It must not one-sidedly endanger growth and employment in the German automotive industry, especially as Germany is currently one of the very few countries in Europe that are reaching their climate protection targets."

The German automotive industry has focused on the manufacture of what the VDA calls "premium products," high end vehicles such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche and Audi. The VDA says if car fuel efficiency standards require everyone to reduce to the same level, the German industry would be hit the hardest.

"The new regulations on CO2 reduction must be drawn up so that they do not discriminate, said the VDA, adding, "Premium manufacturers cannot be measured with the same yardstick used for small cars."

"What we are seeing is mindless scaremongering from the German car industry" said Dings. "They are saying that makers of larger cars will have to close and thousands of jobs will be lost - it's absurd. It is simply wrong that the Commission is preparing to water down an absolutely key element of Europe's climate policy on the basis of the misleading claims of one industry in one country."

The VDA emphasized that the CO2 balance of new German vehicles is something to be proud of. Today there are 334 German-branded models that consume less than 6.5 liters of fuel for traveling 100 kilometers (36 miles per gallon) or emit less than 154 grams of CO2 per kilometers.

Of these, over 50 models consume less than five liters per 100 km, and the first models with a consumption of as little as 3.5 liters per 100 km (67 mpg) are on the market, the VDA said.

But leaving car fuel efficiency standards aside for the present, the European Commission proposes to revise the 1998 fuel quality directive, a law that 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.

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 and to further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.

From 2011, suppliers will have to reduce emissions per unit of energy by one percent a year from 2010 levels. This will result in a 10 percent cut by 2020.

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France's busy Autoroute A10 (Photo Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
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 additives that contain oxygen, including up to 10 percent ethanol.

The different petrol blends will be clearly marked to avoid fueling vehicles with incompatible fuel.

To compensate for an increase in emissions of polluting vapors that will result from greater use of ethanol, the Commission will put forward a proposal for the mandatory introduction of vapor recovery equipment at filling stations later this year.

These vapors, known as volatile organic compounds, contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, or smog, pollution, which can cause premature death in people with breathing difficulties or heart problems.

From January 1, 2009 all diesel fuel marketed will have to have an ultra-low sulfur content - no more than 10 parts per million.

This will cut pollutant emissions, primarily of dust particles, or particulate matter, the air pollutant most dangerous for human health.

This sulfur 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 sulfur 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 Commission said.

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

Full details of the assessment of the benefits and the technical issues associated with the review of the directive are online here.



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