Low Sulfur Gasoline Proposed By US EPA

Touted a win for lobbyists against the oil industry, and for the most part supported by automakers, regulators are considering a proposal to limit gasoline sulfur content to match what’s required in California, Europe and Japan.

The proposal by the Obama administration would call for a reduction in average sulfur content from 30 parts per million to 10 parts per million, and rules – if approved – would take effect Jan. 1, 2017.

The next step is for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to announce and open a public comment period for 60-days, and the law as proposed would see opposition and support from vested interests, no doubt.

In question is how much the proposal would add to the average price per gallon of fuel. Oil companies warn it could spike prices by as much as six to nine cents per gallon because they would need to equip refineries with expensive equipment to produce the cleaner fuel.

Proponents such as clean air groups – basing their statements on U.S. EPA estimates – peg the average price increase at only one cent per gallon.

Automakers have mostly to gain and several have shown support for the proposal as it would make uniform the fuel requirements for their global offerings, including higher-mpg lean-burn direct injection engines which require low-sulfur gasoline.

According to Automotive News, Ford, BMW and Daimler are among those developing these types of engines. One tradeoff is these engines do produce more emissions, but the low sulfur content fuel could balance their net output to acceptable levels.

Known as Tier 3, the rules would also allow automakers to sell in all 50 states vehicles intended to meet California rules planned to take effect in 2017.

Extra costs are also involved in producing and operating the vehicles meant to burn the fuel however. Because sulfur builds up inside of catalytic converters, a regenerating system must be included to heat the catalyst. This is less than a perfect solution as it 1) adds to production cost and vehicle complexity, and 2) allows engines to use fuel to develop some heat instead of propel the car, so fuel economy marginally suffers as a result.

Oil companies also say their costs will escalate by tens of millions of dollars, and they have been adamantly opposed to proposed low sulfur gasoline for the U.S.

Justifying its decision to make the proposal, the U.S. EPA says the bottom line is public health costs would be reduced by $7 for every $1 spent on emissions controls in cars, and the cleaner low-sulfur gas they require.

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