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February 04, 2016   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

Diesel Sulfur Limits Worldwide and the Need for ULSD

Demand for clean diesel fuel will only increase around the world as other countries’ economies grow, driving demand for powerful modern diesel engines that will also improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions across the globe. Moving forward with economic growth while trying to improve environmental quality is possible but it all starts with the cleaner fuel.


Diesel power is the lifeblood of the global economy and has been the fuel-efficient technology of choice for many decades for doing the business of the global economy, with diesel engines and fuel moving the overwhelming majority of people and goods in every corner of the world.

Cleaner diesel fuel, advanced engines and effective emissions control make up a new generation of diesel. But it all starts with the cleaner fuel. Today many areas in world rely on older technology diesel generators for electricity because the electrical grid is unreliable. Their vehicles and equipment are not the latest generation of clean diesel technology because they lack access to the cleaner diesel fuel.

Clean diesel fuel with sulfur content of 15 parts per million or less has been the standard in the U.S. since 2006.  That’s 97 percent less sulfur – and it is now the standard for both on-highway and off-highway diesel engines nationwide. Reducing the sulfur content of diesel fuel is similar to removing lead from gasoline during the 1970s.

Cleaner diesel fuel enables the development of a new generation of advanced engines and emission control devices that can't operate effectively with higher sulfur content in diesel fuel. Clean diesel fuel has been an important element in helping the U.S. achieve current and future clean air and climate goals and can provide a pathway that other countries can follow to improve the environmental performance of their vehicles.

Black carbon emissions have also been virtually eliminated from new diesel vehicles and equipment in the U.S. Regulations in place for heavy-duty truck engines beginning in model year 2007 and further tightened rules for model year 2010 engines have required a 98 percent reduction in particulate matter emissions – a leading contributor to black carbon.  

As has been the case in the U.S. and other parts of the world, improvements to air quality can begin rapidly by introducing cleaner diesel fuels. ULSD can have an immediate effect, reducing vehicle particulate emissions by about 10 percent from all diesel vehicles and equipment that use it; both old and new. But far greater clean air benefits will come from new clean diesel engines that are optimized around this clean fuel and have the latest emissions controls that are quite sensitive to contamination with dirtier fuel, so a high quality fuel program is critically important.

ULSD availability is paramount to strategies to reduce soot or black carbon emissions from existing diesel engines of all sizes. New technology diesel engines have reduced diesel’s share of black carbon emissions to near zero levels helping to substantially contribute to slowing the warming of the planet.

The impressive and dramatic reduction in black carbon from diesel sources in the U.S. has not gone unnoticed by other countries. Most developed economies including Europe, Canada and Japan adopted low sulfur diesel fuel standards along with diesel engine emission rules. The United Nation’s Environment Programme is encouraging developing economies to introduce clean diesel technologies. The first step in the process of introducing clean diesel technologies rests on the availability of low sulfur diesel fuel and the group is working to encourage the production and distribution of low sulfur diesel fuel with a sulfur content of at most 50 parts per million in many developing economies. Other nations with clean fuel standards have adopted modern engine emissions standards – either U.S. or European Union rules – including Argentine, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Peru, India, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Russia and Turkey.

Light and heavy duty vehicle emissions and fuel sulfur standards in selected regions.

The State of Clean Transport Policy - The International Council on Clean Transportation, 2014

Another benefit of the diesel platform is its capability for continued improvement and use of high quality biofuels. In the U.S., first and second generation bio-based diesel fuels are growing in supply to over 1 billion gallons last year, and have the further potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Both biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel are considered advanced biofuels by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, capable of delivering at least a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions. Cities like San Francisco and Oakland California have converted their entire public fleets to run on renewable diesel fuel, reducing CO2 emissions by over 80 percent virtually overnight.

While there is ongoing demonstration and exploration of alternative fuels in niche applications, diesel is expected to remain the predominant powertrain in commercial vehicles for several decades to come. Demand for clean diesel fuel will only increase around the world as other countries’ economies grow, driving demand for powerful modern diesel engines that will also improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions across the globe. Moving forward with economic growth while trying to improve environmental quality is possible but it all starts with the cleaner fuel.


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Key Contact

Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy
efinkin@dieselforum.org
301-668-7230

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