Cutting through the smog on Canadian fuel quality

Blog - Oct. 20, 2010 - By Jesse Row

In 2008, the Pembina Institute published a study of fuel quality regulations in Canada and the impact on vehicle tailpipe emissions, compared to leading jurisdictions internationally. The Fuel Quality in Canada report, commissioned by the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers of Canada, concluded that Canadian fuel quality standards lag behind the leading jurisdictions in the world in four areas.

Last week the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (CPPI), the industry association for oil refiners, issued a press release stating that the Pembina report on fuel quality in Canada created confusion with questionable research.

The basis for CPPI's criticism is a November 2009 report from Environment Canada that was requested by Environment Minister Jim Prentice in response to our report.

Smart Car in Okotoks, AlbertaBut the Environment Canada report only compared fuel in Canada with fuel in the U.S. Its key premise was that Canadian federal standards need to be harmonized with U.S. federal standards.

To be fair, the Environment Canada report found that for three out of the four fuel characteristics identified by Pembina, Canadian fuel is as good as or better than fuel in the U.S. This point was never challenged in the Pembina report, and Canadians can feel good that their fuel is at least as good as the fuel south of the border.

But the point of the Pembina report was to show that Canadians are being held back by keeping our standards harmonized with the U.S. federal standards. Other jurisdictions - notably California, Australia, Japan and Europe - are moving forward and seeing real health and environmental benefits from improved fuel standards. For sulphur in particular, Australia and Europe are expecting to save billions of dollars in fuel costs by moving to a 10 part per million (ppm) limit in gasoline. This can be achieved while also reducing emissions because a 10ppm sulphur level allows new, more efficient, lean burn engines to be used.

Not only does the Environment Canada report not look at these other jurisdictions, it actually agrees with the Pembina report in a section it calls "Other Considerations." .

Pollution over Calgary, Alberta.The Environment Canada report goes so far as to recommend that the Canadian government work to "determine benefits and costs of further reduction of gasoline sulphur levels" as a way to enable the use of technologies such as lean burn engines. This is the same recommendation that was part of the Pembina report.

The Environment Canada report also states that there is "a quality gap with regards to the level of DCAs [deposit control additives] in Canadian gasoline as compared to the U.S. federal regulation." This is also consistent with the Pembina report, which shows that Canadians could have better fuel economy and lower emissions with higher levels of deposit control additives.

Both the Pembina report and the Environment Canada report also reference the identical California Air Resources Board document, which states that the current lubricity (or lubricating characteristic)of diesel fuel is not adequate for future low-emissions technology.

Again, both reports agree that there is an opportunity to benefit from higher fuel quality.

And finally, both reports reference the same U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report that states that low cetane levels in diesel negatively impact emissions from diesel engines that do not have exhaust gas recirculation. Newer engines with EGR, however, are not impacted as much.

Ultimately, the Environment Canada report agrees that emissions could be further reduced in Canada if action was taken to improve the four fuel characteristics identified in the Pembina report. The main difference between the reports, of course, is that the Environment Canada report assumed that we should have the same standards as most of the U.S. The Pembina report, on the other hand, was not restricted to just U.S. federal standards, but looked at the best standards in the world. These standards were found to be beneficial to both the health and the pocketbooks of the people in those countries.

The Pembina report recommends that, at the very least, the government should take a serious look at the pros and cons of each of these opportunities.

Now that the Environment Canada report is public, perhaps the government will at least look at the levels of sulphur and deposit control additives within gasoline, as recommended by its own working group.


Jesse Row

Jesse Row is director of the Pembina Institute's energy efficiency program in Alberta, until 2015.


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