27 July 2006
Ever felt like holding your breath when the car in front of you is emitting foul-smelling, dirty black smoke from its exhaust?
One of the major causes of that noxious smoke is the sulphur content in diesel fuel, but with South Africa tightening its legislation around air quality, the country is seeing more of its big polluters taking innovative steps to reduce toxic atmospheric emissions.
In some cases they are going a step further, offering products that fall below the minimum emissions now permissible, as is the case with BP, which has launched a new ultra-low-sulphur diesel fuel containing 50 parts per million of sulphur.
The standard cleaner diesel fuel currently allowed by law has a sulphur content of no more than 500 parts per million (ppm).
However, South Africans are likely to see this level gradually reduced to a point where even less sulphur emissions are permissible, says Peter Lukey, chief director of air quality management at the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The National Environment Management Air Quality Act of 2004 tightens up the conditions under which emissions that reduce air quality are permissible.
The government has set up a timetable for reductions in the sulphur content of diesel, with further reductions on the cards as South Africa gradually brings its standards in line with those around the world.
BP Cleaner Diesel 50
“[I]n reality all new-technology diesel vehicles are designed for European standard diesel with a sulphur level of 50ppm, which is why we launched BP Cleaner Diesel 50,” BP’s Sipho Maseko said at the launch of BP’s Cleaner Diesel 50 product in Cape Town on Wednesday.
The company’s new product is currently available only in the coastal regions of Cape Town and Durban, but will be available in Gauteng in a few months’ time.
The move has been welcomed by the government, with Lukey saying there was “no doubt that a reduction in sulphur [in diesel fuel] will have a dramatic impact on our air quality”.
Clearing the ‘brown haze’
Lukey said the government would continue encouraging industry’s compliance with its air quality standards, and a list of “controlled emitters” would soon be published in a move to reduce air pollution.
One of the first controlled emitters the government would looking at was motor vehicles, Lukey said, noting that air pollution studies had found that the major cause of the “brown haze” covering the country’s cities was vehicle emissions.
Ivan Bromfield, a health manager at the City of Cape Town, said one particular study had found that diesel vehicle emissions caused about 48% of this “brown haze”, followed by petrol vehicles with 17% and industry emissions with 13%.