Fuel revolution

19 March 2008

CECE has long been calling for an amendment to the 'Fuel Directive' (97/70/EC) as part of Europe's drive to reduce engine emissions. The equipment industry needs diesel containing 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulphur in order to meet the requirements of the forthcoming Stage IIIB engine emissions laws. This needs to be in place before Stage IIIB comes into force to allow fuel tanks to be 'flushed' of their old high sulphur fuel.

Under the updated directive, Member States must ensure that by December 31 2009 the maximum sulphur content of fuels for non-road mobile construction, agricultural and forestry machines is 10 ppm.

Why 10 Ppm?

In order to meet the requirements of Stage IIIB, manufacturers are expected to employ some, or all of the following technologies; Cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation (C-EGR), Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF) and possibly Nitrous Oxide (NOx) absorbers.

NOx absorbers are complex technologies, and it is unlikely they will be used to meet Stage IIIB. Of the other systems, SCR and C-EGR systems can cope with diesel containing 50 ppm of sulphur without significant adverse effects, but such fuels would be a problem for DPF.

A significant number of manufacturers are likely to use DPF technology to meet Stage IIIB, the main focus of which is a reduction in particulate emissions (black soot) from diesel engines. Sulphur is the key source of particulates, and the use of 50 ppm sulphur fuel would shorten the life of filters.

10 ppm sulphur fuel will be better for the environment.

This in turn would lead to increased downtime, and higher operating costs for equipment owners and users. It would also require the use of larger, more cumbersome systems, and the time needed for manufacturers to develop these could extend beyond the Stage IIIB introduction date.

On the other hand, the additional cost and effort to required to make 10 ppm sulphur fuel available will be minor compared to this burden, which is to say the additional cost to the customer in the after treatment cycle and the development cost of new DPF systems.

It clearly follows from this that the introduction of 10 ppm sulphur fuel will be better for the environment. The use of ultra low sulphur fuels will also cut particulate emissions from existing construction machines, as well as new Stage IIIB compliant equipment.

Equipment manufacturers cannot say that machines equipped with DPF to fulfil Stage IIIB will not be able to operate with 50 ppm sulphur fuel. However, in many cases this will not allow equipment manufacturers to meet their customers' expectations. This is why CECE has requested that 10 ppm sulphur fuel be made available in good time for Stage IIIB.


Construction equipment is often fuelled from large storage tanks in remote sites. It is clearly crucial that this high sulphur fuel is 'flushed' from these tanks before the Stage IIIB machines start to use them in January 2011.

CECE has stressed to the Commission that in order to achieve this 10 ppm sulphur fuel must start to be distributed by January 2009. However, the implementation date for the directive is December 2009 – 1 year later. This means it is likely that some machines with Stage IIIB engines will be filled with incompatible fuel containing too much sulphur, leading to fatal engine and machine failures.

The time needed to clean the whole fuel chain from high sulphur fuel to 10 ppm will vary a lot depending on how frequently end users fill up their fuel storage tanks. In many cases this frequency is linked to the structure and size of the enterprise of the machine owner, which can vary from a fleet of only a few machines to hundreds of units. In remote areas a long way from fuel depots, machine owners could have large enough tanks for six months of operation.

Next Steps

Beyond these immediate concerns, CECE is pushing for more harmonisation on fuels. First, it wants specifications for 10 ppm off-highway sulphur fuel to be aligned with on-road fuels in accordance with EN590.

Second, CECE believes it is vital to harmonise the dye colour for the various diesel fuels across Europe. There should be one standard colour for each purpose – heating, off-road and on-road – to avoid possible misunderstanding when equipment circulates across EU internal borders.

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