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Thursday, 9 November, 2000, 13:25 GMT
The facts about low sulphur fuel
Exhaust
Low sulphur means fewer harmful particulates
Gordon Brown is cutting duty on low sulphur fuel. Until Tuesday, many motorists never knew it existed. But by next year, we may all be filling up with it.

Before Chancellor Gordon Brown's pre-Budget statement on Wednesday, few motorists had heard of low sulphur fuel, let alone filled up on it.

But with tax cuts in the pipeline, it will not be long before drivers of Britain's 22 million petrol-powered vehicles make the switch to so-called ULSP.

BP forecourt
Not green enough. Gordon Brown wants all filling stations to stock low sulphur petrol
Mr Brown pledged a 2p-a-litre tax reduction on ULSP - ultra low sulphur petrol - which comes on top of last month's 1p-a-litre cut.

At the moment low sulphur petrol is not easy to find. While the chancellor wants it to replace standard petrol completely by next year, at the moment fewer than 1,000 of the 12,500 filling stations across Britain stock it.

Until now, the biggest barrier to take-up has been price - the fuel costs between 2p and 3p-per-litre more to refine than standard petrol.

That difference has now effectively been wiped out by Mr Brown's tax cut.

100% diesel take up

The chancellor wants to repeat the success in take-up of cleaner diesel. Since 1997 fuel duty concessions for ULSD - ultra low sulphur diesel - mean all the diesel market is using it already.

On Tuesday, Mr Brown pledged also pledged a 3p-a-litre cut on the duty for ULSD, also known as city diesel and green diesel.

Asthma inhaler
Particulate emissions have been linked to asthma and cancer
Low sulphur fuel is essentially cleaner for the environment and better for engines. It means fewer particulates (fine sooty emissions), which have been linked to asthma and cancer, and fewer sulphur oxides, which cause acid rain.

The chemical reduces the efficiency of catalytic converters and also blackens buildings.

The AA says motorists may already be filling up on ULSP without knowing, and it doesn't affect engine performance.

However, it's not all good news. Environmentalists say low sulphur fuels do nothing to combat climate change issues.

It is even claimed the fuel has slightly higher emissions of carbon dioxide - the greenhouse gas that is often blamed for global warming.

More efficient engines?

However, Greenergy, which led the introduction of city diesel in Britain, says low sulphur petrol will usher in new types of efficient engine which will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30%.

It is also argued that sulphur particulates in the atmosphere mirror the sun's rays and so mitigate global warming.

While low sulphur petrol pumps are absent from most filling stations, the fuel is set to become widely available in coming months.

The supermarkets have led the way by introducing ULSP to their forecourts.

Esso says it is available at three-quarters of its filling stations and Shell says it will have no problem meeting the government's demands for 100% availability.


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