Next time you fill up at the service station, think about the petrol you’re using.

Australia is lagging behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to fuel quality and our vehicle emissions standards are out of step with Europe as industry undertakes to upgrade refining capability by 2027.

“We’ve got some of the dirtiest fuel in the world,” Motor Trade Association WA chief executive Steve Moir said.

“Our oil refineries are saying it would cost about $1 billion to upgrade facilities, but these days you really wouldn’t want to run a car on 91 RON.

“At a pinch, use 95 or, ideally, 98, but it’s still dirty by world standards — that’s why we aren’t getting all the cars they have in Europe.”

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found air pollution accounted for 2549 premature deaths in 2011 — more than the national road toll from accidents.

A Commonwealth Government review on vehicle emissions in 2016-17 outlined a range of options for reform, noting that Australian petrol in 2017 was ranked 70th — the lowest of 35 OECD countries — in the world.

A draft regulation impact statement — Better Fuel for Cleaner Air — in 2018 identified the key parameters of our petrol that needed to be addressed to bring us into line with Europe.

These include reducing the aromatic content of our fuel and optimising vehicles imported into Australia to run on high-octane petrol.

But a major issue is sulphur, a natural component of crude oil that needs to be removed during the refining process.

It’s a respiratory irritant and can form sulphur dioxide and secondary particulate sulphates in vehicle emissions.

Exposure can cause eye and throat irritation, as well as exacerbate cardiovascular diseases and asthma. We have a regulated maximum limit of 150 sulphur parts per million (ppm) for regular unleaded petrol (91 RON) and 50ppm for premium unleaded petrol (both 95 and 98 RON).

The maximum limit is 10ppm in Europe, the US, Japan and South Korea.

Australia’s high-sulphur petrol means vehicle manufacturers cannot import cars with advanced technology based on performance and emissions.

Removal of sulphur during refining decreases octane rating, so alternative means need to be found to increase octane to maintain high performance. The review noted there is currently no 98 RON standard in Australia. This means 98 RON petrol is legally held to the 95 RON standard, providing no recourse under the Fuel Quality Standards Act for 98 RON labelled petrol that actually has an octane number between 95 and 98.

Australian diesel was also found to be out of step with European fuel standards in regard to its density, cetane rating and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, many of which are known carcinogens and can cause engine problems and noxious emissions. It did, however, meet international standards with regulated maximum sulphur at 10 ppm, but this applied only to automotive diesel and not off-road uses.

So, why are we lagging behind?

A key issue was Australia’s current fuel standards were designed to ensure the move to Euro 2 and Euro 3 emissions standards in 2003 and 2005 respectively and that all light vehicles manufactured from November 2016 had to comply with Euro 5 emissions standards.

“At present, the quality of Australia’s petrol does not meet the minimum fuel requirements considered necessary to comply with the currently regulated Euro 5 vehicle emissions standards,” the review said.

It noted vehicle manufacturers claimed using Australian fuel in more efficient and high-performing Euro 6 vehicles was likely to cause a range of problems, including higher emissions than they’re certified for, in-service issues such as malfunction indicator lights activating and damaged brand reputation.

New measures announced by the Australian Government in February, last year, include:

Reduce sulphur in petrol to 10 parts per millions from July 1, 2027.

Retain regular unleaded petrol.

Reduce the pool average of aromatic content in petrol from 42 per cent to 35 per cent from January 1, 2022.

Review the aromatic content in petrol limit by 2022 to set a reduced limit by 2027 or establish an alternative solution.

The Australian Institute of Petroleum referred WestWheels to their Better Fuel for Cleaner Air submission and website, where it claims it has “consistently demonstrated that the sulphur and aromatic levels in petrol available to Australian motorists are already substantially below the regulated limits”. Additionally, the AIP estimates Australia’s four refineries will collectively be required to invest around $1 billion to transition to 10ppm sulphur by 2027.

BP Australia, which has a refinery in Kwinana, said it supported an orderly transition to new fuel standards, including the reduction of maximum allowable levels of sulphur in all grades of petrol on deadline.

The Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions noted in its 2016 report that the sulphur content in Australia was a “key issue” as to whether our petrol was of an “appropriate quality’ to support Euro 6.

The FCAI argues that until this is achieved, Australian new car buyers will not be able to purchase vehicles with the latest engine and exhaust technology.

Extracted from The West