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History of the development of cleaner fuels in South Africa

Over the course of the past 30 years, pollution control experts around the world have come to realise that cleaner fuels are a critical component of an effective clean air strategy. In recent years, this understanding of the critical role of fuels has deepened and spread to most regions of the world.

Fuel quality is now seen as not only necessary to eliminate or reduce certain pollutants, such as lead, but also as a precondition for the introduction of many important vehicle emission control technologies, such as catalytic converters and diesel particulate filters.

Therefore, in order to achieve cleaner urban air quality, a holistic, integrated approach is required that involves the introduction of cleaner fuels that enable the introduction of cleaner vehicle technology, together with other measures such as traffic management schemes and car sharing.

1920s – The process of introducing cleaner fuels into the South African market started with the reduction, and finally removal, of lead in petrol and the reduction of sulphur levels in diesel.
1920s – Lead, in the form of lead alkyl, added to petrol to raise the octane number and prevent engine ‘knock’ which is the uncontrolled combustion of the last part of the fuel/air mixture in the combustion chamber.
1970s – Concern over the increasing recognition of the health effects of airborne lead eventually resulted in successive governments banning the use of lead additives in petrol.
1970s – Lead removal process started in Japan, USA and Canada.
1986 – Lead levels in petrol were reduced from 0.836g Pb/l to 0.60g Pb/l in South Africa.
1996 – Unleaded petrol (ULP) available throughout South Africa.
2001 – Department of Minerals and Energy initiated discussions on the first round of fuel specification changes, with the establishment of a multi-stakeholder group.
2002 – Diesel sulphur was reduced from 5 500 parts per million (ppm) to 3 000 ppm.
2005 – Reduction in sulphur in ULP petrol from 1 000 parts per million (ppm) m to 500ppm.
2006 – Leaded road fuel was finally banned in South Africa in January 2006.
2006 – Diesel sulphur was further reduced to 500 ppm with a niche grade of 50 ppm also being introduced in a large part of the country. The sulphur level of ULP was reduced from 1 000 ppm to 500 ppm at the time. This allowed Euro 2 type vehicle emission standards to be achieved.
2010 – South African Petroleum Industry Association (SAPIA) presented Minister Peters with a proposal for new, cleaner fuel specifications in January. This document contains results of work conducted over an 18-month period by independent consultants and an oil industry team.
2011 – DOE published draft amendment regulations regarding petroleum products specifications and standards in October. SAPIA provided feedback on the draft regulations in December.
2011 – SAPIA commissioned KPMG to undertake a study on the impact of funding options of refinery upgrades to Clean Fuels II standards. Findings were submitted to DOE and National Treasury to assist in the determination of a suitable cost recovery mechanism.
2012 – DOE published amendment regulations regarding petroleum products specifications and standards on 1 June.
2013 – Finalisation of the new clean fuels diesel specification through the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS process). The petrol specifications required extended discussion during the year to reach an agreement on volatility and metal additive specifications.
2013 – SAPIA held a number of discussions with DOE and National Treasury in an attempt to finalise the cost-recovery mechanism for the production and distribution of clean fuels.
2014 – Finalisation of both the petrol and diesel CFI and CFII fuel specifications under the auspices of SABS.
2014 – DOE confirmation of their proposal to delay the July 2017 CFII implementation date.
2014 – Ongoing uncertainty regarding the determination of a cost-recovery mechanism for the major capital investments required to provide CFII.
2015 – SAPIA requested DOE to rescind the regulations pertaining to the implementation of cleaner fuels by 1 July 2017 due to policy uncertainty generated by the delay in a decision to implement cost recovery. Policy uncertainty has resulted in work being halted to convert to cleaner fuels at refineries. This means that the oil refining fleet in South Africa did not make any progress with the necessary upgrades to implement cleaner fuels.

(Source: SAPIA)