Transport emissions present an ongoing challenge and addressing them is essential if Europe is to become more climate and environmentally sustainable. While many technological developments have already contributed to reducing car emissions, the fuel itself can play a key role in reducing pollution. Thirty years ago, Europe successfully linked the level of octane (a measure of fuel performance) in petrol with vehicle technology requirements as a way to improve air quality and decrease emissions. The EU now has the opportunity to showcase again its global leadership on fuel quality by increasing further the octane level of petrol, defined over three decades ago, from today’s 95 to around 100 or more in the future.
For cars that use an internal combustion engine (ICE), deploying the use of high quality fuels is a simple, cost-effective and guaranteed method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants in the transport sector. The uptake of such fuels does not require a new generation of vehicles or behavioural changes. It is possible today and it is a realistic addition to a range of transport solutions. The European Commission predicts that 80% of all new vehicles sold in 2030 will use ICE technology, maximising the emissions reduction potential of high quality fuels.
High quality, better performing liquid fuels can help in reducing air pollution
The benefit of higher-octane fuels is clear when it comes to the quality of the air we breathe. The World Health Organisation estimates that bad air quality causes 400,000 premature deaths a year in Europe. Improving fuel quality is a pragmatic and cost-effective method of reducing emissions.
20 million tonnes of CO2 can be saved a year if Europe transitions to higher quality fuels
Europe has committed to cutting by 30% CO2 emissions from non-ETS sectors by 2030. To achieve this, all available technologies will need to be deployed including improved liquid fuels, which will continue to play an important role in 2030 – and beyond. According to a study by the Society of Automotive Engineers, increasing the octane number of petrol can result in a realistic lower fuel consumption of at least 7% and, when combined with a small change to the engine, could offer savings of up to 20 million tons of CO2 per year from petrol engine vehicles. An opportunity which Europe should not miss.
More efficient engines are key to the transition towards cleaner transport
Vehicles equipped with more efficient (high compression, downsized) engines would truly reap the benefits of using higher quality fuels. However, manufacturers currently have no incentives to produce these. As a simple measure, the savings potential of these fuels should be accounted for in the test measure of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from cars. This would trigger manufacturers to bring these vehicles to the market. Additionally, and as the existing vehicle fleet changes over time, high quality fuels will also aid the uptake of plug-in hybrid vehicles, ensuring that their engine is as efficient as possible. Technically, the official vehicle approvals should also include a higher-octane test fuel in order to assess objectively the appropriate increase in vehicle efficiency. The EU Regulation on CO2 Standards for cars, currently under revision, offers an opportunity for Europe to roll out of high performing engines capable to run on high-octane fuels.
Consumers can greatly benefit from improving fuel
High quality fuels could play a key role in reducing costs for consumers because they enable cars to drive with an improved fuel economy, meaning the motorist will travel farther with the same tank of petrol. Thanks to economies of scale, a wide and combined introduction to the EU market of higher-octane fuel and new high compression engines should not prove an additional financial burden on consumers. Higher-octane fuel prolongs the life of the engine and reduces maintenance cost while maintaining higher efficiency.
Europe should continue to lead on fuel quality globally
Europe is not alone in having to reduce emissions in the transport sector. With the global population growing and the transport needs of regions such as Africa and Asia increasing, it is critical that Europe supports research and innovation in high quality fuels. There is no silver bullet for decrease emissions from the transport sector, and using all of the tools at our disposal is the only way to achieve real progress. High octane is one of them.