Comment: Stuck with dirty diesel (The Star)

TRANSIT has been following the introduction of new petrol and diesel standards to the market with great interest – because cleaner fuels mean cleaner buses, lower emissions, more efficiency (and lower costs) and they are better for the environment!

Stuck with dirty diesel (The Star)
Friday September 11, 2009
WHY NOT? BY WONG SAI WAN

Most of the pollution we see in our skies daily is caused by emission from vehicles plying the roads, and the time has come for us to be given better, and less harmful, fuel.

TWO weeks ago, Petronas announced that it was upgrading the diesel it was selling at its pumps to Euro 2M environment standard – as part of its efforts to help protect the environment.

A few years ago this would have been a major story, but as it turned out most newspapers only gave it a three-paragraph mention.

To be fair, Petronas did try to hype it up, but it was overshadowed by the Government’s announcement of an increase in petrol prices and the phasing out of RON 92 fuel.

It should have been a joyous occasion as Malaysia had finally crawled out of its antiquated petroleum usage – both the Petronas diesel and RON 95 petrol conform to Euro 2M – but the readjustment of the Government subsidy gave little joy.

Euro 2M diesel, with an additive called Sinar D07, is priced at RM1.70 a liter and is sold by Petronas as Petronas Dynamic Diesel.

The Euro 2M standard permits only a maximum of 500ppm of sulphur in the fuel, a huge improvement over the previous standard, which capped sulphur content at 3,000ppm.

Euro emission standards are enforced throughout the European Union (EU), and the higher the standard (meaning lower sulphur content) the lesser emission of pollutants.

Euro 2 was introduced in the EU in 1995 and replaced by Euro 3 in 1999. Euro 4 was introduced in 2005. [TRANSIT: And Euro 5 was introduced in 2008]

So, if we look at it from world standards, there is actually not much to shout about in terms of the introduction of the two Euro 2M standard fuels.

To make matters even worse, we are at least two generations behind immediate neighbours Singapore and Thailand where Euro 4 diesel is widely available.

As far back as in 2002, the Government had announced that Euro 2 diesel was to be in the pumps in 2005, but the decision was defered.

Two years later,[2004] then Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Azmi Khalid announced that the Government was no longer satisfied with Euro 2 but wanted Euro 4 fuel to be made available this year.[2009]

In the words of a senior Petronas official: “This means that our Euro 2M diesel was seven years late in coming.”

Why is it important for us to have Euro 4 standards? Simple. Untreated diesel is a very polluting fuel.

And, car manufacturers in other parts of the world have been making huge advances in producing engines that are able to handle Euro 4 standard fuel. Present-day diesel engines in Europe are designed to run on Euro 3 (350ppm) [TRANSIT: or better], so the new Petronas Dynamic Diesel is not such a big deal. [TRANSIT: According to our source at Scania, the reduction in the limits to sulfur content is a big deal because their buses are at Euro 3 standard. But, as Wong Sai Wan points out above, Euro 2M doesn’t look so good when compared to Euro 3 or Euro 4 or Euro 5 standards]

“Technology for engines that run on petrol has now reached almost the optimum stage in terms of being green, but not those powered by diesel. Diesel engines are now getting more efficient than petrol engines, and are less polluting,” said the same Petronas official.

Asked why Petronas was not introducing Euro 4 diesel, he replied: “The Government does not allow us to do so.

“We are ready to do so and were about to convert our refineries to produce Euro 4 diesel four years ago when the Government changed its mind.”

Looking out of his office window at the Petronas Twin Towers he remarked ruefully: “Every Monday morning, we can see the Shah Alam mosque from here, but by mid-day the smog makes it difficult to even see past the National Mosque.”

For years, lorry and bus operators had been blaming the dirty diesel at the pump for the cause of the thick black smoke that their vehicles spew out.

One lorry operator tells how his brand new fleet of Volvo Euro 3 prime movers constantly failed the Department of Environment black smoke tests despite constant service.

“While the handbook recommends the engine be serviced every 10,000km, my prime movers were being serviced at every 5,000km. We also spend so much more in changing fuel filters and other parts,” he said.

Even the ultra modern KLRapid [RapidKL yeh!] buses are not spared the heavy sulphur diesel and the company estimates that its vehicles’ lifespan is reduced by half because of the poor quality of fuel. [TRANSIT: We will try to get some info and comments from RapidKL on this – as well as how the new diesel will help improve the lifespan of their buses].

A motoring journalist once told me that when testing a brand new BMW in Spain, he had opted to try one fitted with a diesel power plant because he wanted to experience the performance of an engine running on the then much hyped Euro 4 diesel.

After two days of driving, he was raving about the power and smoothness of the drive and believed that the new diesel was one reason why.

His host then told him that the Euro 4 diesel he was using was refined in Malaysia!

Another luxury car company which brought in a Euro 4 powered vehicle for a test drive at the Sepang F1 Circuit had to import the diesel from Singapore.

An official with the company nearly had a heart attack when told that what he had imported was produced less than 50km away. The Euro 4 diesel was refined in Port Dickson.

Why then is it not sold locally?

Historically, the older lorries had engines that needed fuel with high sulphur content and could not use Euro 2 diesel. The authorities decided to hold back on the introduction of the cleaner fuel because there were then just too many old lorries on the road, and they were usually owned by single lorry operators.

These operators were not rich enough to change to more efficient lorries, and their vehicles kept our economy moving.

However, this should no longer be the case because such lorry operators are now very small in number.

Now logistics companies with fleets of vehicles move goods throughout the country. They can well afford to buy more efficient, and Euro 4 compliant, lorries.

Sadly, the authorities seem to be bowing down to pressure from foreign oil companies, which operate the majority of petrol stations in the country.

It seems that while Petronas was willing to forgo some profits to sell high quality diesel – they make a premium of RM2 per litre exporting Euro 4 – the foreign oil giants are not willing to do so. It will cost about US$30mil (RM105mil) to convert a refinery to produce Euro 4. [TRANSIT: Seems like applause for Petronas is in order?]

I accept that it may cost the Government more in subsidy to bring in Euro 4 diesel and just as there are two grades of petrol petrol, why not similarly for diesel?

Euro 4 diesel can be sold in the country as premium diesel just like RON97 petrol. Why not?

While people as far away as California – which has the world’s most stringent emission laws – get to enjoy Euro 4 fuel made here in Malaysia, we Malaysians are stuck with our dirty diesel.

And the world is now moving towards Euro 5 fuel. All stations in Hong Kong already sell only such fuel – since two years ago.

■ Deputy Executive Editor Wong Sai Wan drives a diesel powered vehicle that would purr if it were running on Euro 4 and not cough out black smoke every time he accelerates uphill.

TRANSIT Says:

Cleaner fuels = cleaner air = healthier people = lower costs all around = save money!

So we wonder what we can do to encourage RapidKL and RapidPg. and other bus operators to push for Euro 4 diesel standards in Malaysia.

We can produce it so we should make it available!

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