Magazine article The Spectator

Fuel of the Future

Magazine article The Spectator

Fuel of the Future

Article excerpt

Lead Replacement Petrol (LRP), the drink for cars that dislike unleaded, is being gradually withdrawn because of declining demand. Many older engines can take unleaded without modification anyway, provided they don't do high mileage at high speed, so demand never was as great as anticipated. Time, meanwhile, winnows the rest and fairly soon the only examples still on four wheels will be cars whose owners fondly regard them as collectable. For these, various off-the-shelf additives will remain available.

In fact, you can still get leaded petrol, the original, genuine hard stuff. Manufactured in Harwich by Petrochem Carless, it is supplied by Bayford Thrust to about 1.5 million drivers through 170 petrol stations. EU rules permit leaded petrol sales provided they don't total more than 0.5 per cent of total fuel sales. The catch, of course, is that this government taxes it even more highly than other fuels, despite the fact that leaded petrol is a low-sulphur fuel (lead's not all bad, you see). Find out more from www.leadedpetrol.co.uk

Not that low-sulphur is the fuel of the future. That accolade should more properly belong to sulphur-free petrol (so-called, though it isn't, of course - it's simply fuel with a sulphur content of less than ten parts per million, as opposed to less than 50 in the case of low-sulphur fuel). Yet more EU regulations require sulphur-free to be available in every EU country from 2005, and it will be mandatory from 2009. Removing sulphur from petrol doesn't harm engines but keeping it might, because - increasingly - the new generation of direct-injection petrol engines can't run on it. It's too dirty. And direct-injection engines are very much part of the future, being cleaner and more economical than current engines.

Sulphur-free petrol is already widely available in Germany, Austria, Norway and Sweden (from the end of the year all German petrol will be sulphur-free), but here only a handful of garages within reach of BP's Grangemouth refinery sell it. Refineries require modification to produce it and it costs more to refine, anyway, so the oil companies would want to charge more, while rightly suspecting that the overtaxed British motorist would avoid it for as long as he can. If the government announced a tax-break for sulphur-free, the oil companies could predict their market and would invest in the extra costs of production. However, the government has made no such announcement, and the earliest we're likely to hear it - if we do - is in the Chancellor's November pre-budget statement. …

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