Ultra-low-sulfur diesel

Ultra-low-sulfur diesel

Ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD, also spelled “sulphur” in British English) is a term used to describe diesel fuel with substantially lowered sulfur content. As of 2006, almost all of the petroleum-based diesel fuel available in Europe and North America is of a ULSD type.

The move to lower sulfur content is expected to allow the application of newer emissions control technologies that should substantially lower emissions of particulate matter from diesel engines. This change occurred first in the European Union and is now happening in North America. New emissions standards, dependent on the cleaner fuel, have been in effect for automobiles in the United States since model year 2007.

ULSD has a lower energy content due to the heavy processing required to remove large amounts of sulfur from oil, leading to lower fuel economy. Using it requires more costly oil.[1]




Some filling stations in Kenya started offering 50 ppm diesel as of December 2010. [2]

South Africa

50 ppm was first legislated by the South African Department of Minerals and Energy in early 2006, and has been widely available since then.


Morocco has started to introduce 50 ppm diesel to filling stations as of 2009. [3]


European Union

In the European Union, the “Euro IV” standard has applied since 2005, which specifies a maximum of 50 ppm of sulfur in diesel fuel for most highway vehicles;[4] ultra-low-sulfur diesel with a maximum of 10 ppm of sulfur must “be available” from 2005 and was widely available as of 2008. A final target (to be confirmed by the European Commission) of 2009 for the final reduction of sulfur to 10 ppm, which will be considered the entry into force of the Euro V fuel standard. In 2009, diesel fuel for most non-highway applications is also expected to conform to the Euro V standard for fuel. Various exceptions exist for certain uses and applications, most of which are being phased out over a period of several years. In particular, the so-called EU accession countries (primarily in Eastern Europe), have been granted certain temporary exemptions to allow for transition. Certain EU countries may apply higher standards or require faster transition.[5] For example, Germany implemented a tax incentive of per litre of "sulphur free" fuel (both gasoline and diesel) containing less than 10 ppm beginning in January 2003 and average sulphur content was estimated in 2006 to be 3-5 ppm. Similar measures have been enacted in most of the Nordic countries, Benelux, Ireland and the United Kingdom to encourage early adoption of the 50 ppm and 10 ppm fuel standards.[6]


Since 1990, diesel fuel with a sulfur content of 50 ppm (0.005%) has been available on the Swedish market. From the year 1992, production started of a diesel fuel with 2 to 5 ppm of sulfur and a maximum of 5% by volume aromatics. There are certain tax incentives for using this fuel and from about year 2000, this low aromatic, low sulfur fuel has achieved 98-99% penetration of the Swedish diesel fuel market. Now RME (rapeseed methyl ester, also called biodiesel) is often used as a lubricant, but there are also synthetic super lubricants available on the market.

Since 2003, a "zero" sulfur with very low aromatic content (less than 1% by volume) diesel fuel has been made available on the Swedish market under the name EcoPar. It is used wherever the working environment is highly polluted, like where diesel trucks are used in confined spaces such as in harbours, inside storage houses, during construction of road and rail tunnels & in vehicles that are predominantly run in city centres, etc.

Central and Eastern Europe (“Accession Countries”)

As of 2008, most accession countries are expected to have made the transition to diesel fuel with 10 ppm sulfur or less. Slightly different times for transition have applied to each of the countries, but most have been required to reduce the maximum sulfur content to less than 50 ppm since 2005.[1] Certain exemptions are expected for certain industries and applications, which will also be phased out over time. Compared to other EU countries, ULSD may be less widely available.

North America


Under Sulphur in Diesel Fuel Regulations (SOR/2002-254), the sulphur content of diesel fuel produced or imported was reduced to 15 ppm after 31 May 2006. This was followed by the reduction of sulphur in diesel fuel sold for use in on-road vehicles after 31 August 2006. For the designated Northern Supply Area, the deadline for reducing the sulfur content of diesel fuel for use in on-road vehicles was 31 August 2007.

An amendment titled Regulations Amending the Sulphur in Diesel Fuel Regulations (SOR/2005-305) added following deadlines:

  • concentration of sulphur in diesel fuel produced or imported for use in off-road engines shall not exceed 500 ppm from 1 June 2007 until 31 May 2010, and 15 ppm after that date.
  • concentration of sulphur in diesel fuel sold for use in off-road engines shall not exceed 500 ppm from 1 October 2007 until 30 September 2010, and 15 ppm after that date.
  • concentration of sulphur in diesel fuel sold in the northern supply area for use in off-road engines shall not exceed 500 ppm from 1 December 2008 until 30 November 2011, and 15 ppm after that date.
  • concentration of sulfur in diesel fuel produced or imported for use in vessel engines or railway locomotive engines shall not exceed 500 ppm from 1 June 2007 until 31 May 2012, and 15 ppm after that date.

An amendment titled Regulations Amending the Sulphur in Diesel Fuel Regulations (SOR/SOR/2006-163) allowed diesel with sulfur content up to 22 ppm to be sold for onroad vehicles between 1 September 2006 and 15 October 2006, then 15 ppm after that date. This amendment facilitated the introduction of 15 ppm sulfur diesel fuel for on-road use in 2006, by lengthening the period between the dates that the production/import limit and the sales limit come into effect. It provided additional time to fully turn over the higher-sulfur diesel fuel inventory for on-road use in the distribution system. The requirements of the Regulations were aligned, in level and timing, with those of the U.S. EPA.


Mexico has begun limited introductions of ULSD along the border with the United States.[7]

United States

As of September 2007, most on-highway diesel fuel sold at retail locations in the United States is ULSD[8].

Ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel was proposed by EPA as a new standard for the sulfur content in on-road diesel fuel sold in the United States since October 15, 2006, except for rural Alaska. California has required it since September 1, 2006, and rural Alaska will transition all diesel to ULSD in 2010. This new regulation applies to all diesel fuel, diesel fuel additives and distillate fuels blended with diesel for on-road use, such as kerosene, however, it does not yet apply to railroad locomotives, marine, or off road uses. By December 1, 2010, all highway diesel fuel will be ULSD. Non-road diesel fuel was required to move to 500 ppm sulfur in 2007, and further to ULSD in 2010. Railroad locomotive and marine diesel fuel also moved to 500 ppm sulfur in 2007, and will change to ULSD in 2012. There are exemptions for small refiners of nonroad, locomotive and marine diesel fuel that allow for 500 ppm diesel to remain in the system until 2014. After December 1, 2014 all highway, nonroad, locomotive and marine diesel fuel produced and imported will be ULSD.

The EPA mandated the use of ULSD fuel in model year 2007 and newer highway diesel fuel engines equipped with advanced emission control systems that require the new fuel. These advanced emission control technologies will be required for marine diesel engines in 2014 and for locomotives in 2015.

The allowable sulfur content for ULSD (15 ppm) is much lower than the previous U.S. on-highway standard for low sulfur diesel (LSD, 500 ppm) which allows advanced emission control systems to be fitted that would otherwise be poisoned by these compounds. These systems can greatly reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter.

Because this grade of fuel is comparable to European grades and engines will no longer have to be redesigned to cope with higher sulfur content and may use advanced emissions control systems which can be damaged by sulfur, the ULSD standard is increasing the availability of diesel-fueled passenger cars in the U.S. In Europe, diesel-engined automobiles have been much more popular with buyers than has been the case in the U.S.

Additionally, the EPA is assisting manufacturers with the transition to tougher emissions regulations by loosening them for model year 2007 to 2010 light-duty diesel engines.[9] As a result, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and others are expecting to begin producing diesel vehicles for the U.S. market to join those from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volkswagen, and BMW. [10]

According to EPA estimates, with the implementation of the new fuel standards for diesel, nitrogen oxide emissions will be reduced by 2.6 million tons each year and soot or particulate matter will be reduced by 110,000 tons a year.

On June 1, 2006, U.S. refiners were required to produce 80% of their annual output as ULSD (15 ppm), and petroleum marketers and retailers were required to label[11] diesel fuel, diesel fuel additives and kerosone pumps with EPA-authorized language disclosing fuel type and sulfur content. Other requirements effective June 1, 2006, including EPA-authorized language on Product Transfer Documents and sulfur-content testing standards, are designed to prevent misfueling, contamination by higher-sulfur fuels and liability issues. The EPA deadline for industry compliance to a 15 ppm sulfur content was originally set for July 15, 2006 for distribution terminals, and by September 1, 2006 for retail. But on November 8, 2005, the deadline was extended by 1.5 months to September 1, 2006 for terminals and October 15, 2006 for retail. In California, the extension was not granted and followed the original schedule. As of December, 2006, the ULSD standard has been in effect according to the amended schedule, and compliance at retail locations was reported to be in place.

Sulfur is not a lubricant in of itself, but it can combine with the nickel content in many metal alloys to form a low melting point eutectic alloy that can increase lubricity. The process used to reduce the sulfur also reduces the fuel's lubricating properties. Lubricity is a measure of the fuel's ability to lubricate and protect the various parts of the engine's fuel injection system from wear. The processing required to reduce sulfur to 15 ppm also removes naturally-occurring lubricity agents in diesel fuel. To manage this change ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) adopted the lubricity specification defined in ASTM D975[12] for all diesel fuels and this standard went into effect January 1, 2005.[13] The D975 standard defines two USLD standards, Grade No. 2-D S15 (regular ULSD) and Grade No. 1-D S15 (a higher volatility fuel with a lower gelling temperature than regular ULSD).

The refining process that removes the sulfur also reduces the aromatic content and density of the fuel, resulting in a minor decrease in the energy content, by about 1%. This decrease in energy content may result in slightly reduced peak power and fuel economy.

The transition to ULSD is not without substantial costs. The US Government has estimated that pump prices for diesel fuel will increase between $.05 and $.25 per gallon as a result of the transition. And, according to the American Petroleum Institute, the domestic refining industry has invested over $8 Billion to comply with the new regulations.

ULSD will run in any engine designed for the ASTM D975 diesel fuels.

It is, however, known to cause some seals to shrink (Source: Chevron paper) and may cause fuel pump failures in Volkswagen TDI engines used in pre-2009 models. TDI engines from 2009 and on are designed to use ULSD exclusively; biodiesel blends are reported to prevent that failure (Source: HRCCC.org Biodiesel Best Management Practices).

South America



Chile requires <50-ppm in Santiago since 2004 and most of the rest of the country is expected to adopt ULSD by 2010.[citation needed]


As of 2008, Argentina limits "City Diesel" to 50-ppm.[citation needed]

The presidency of Néstor Carlos Kirchner decided to remove the only Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel available because they mistakenly believed that this premium, more expensive fuel would have made the prices of the rest of the diesel offer sold nationwide go up in an already demanding market due to the harvest season demands.

The only gas stations in Argentina with Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel are named REFINOR. These are only available in the upper region of Argentina, more precisely in the provinces of Salta, Tucumán, Jujuy, Santiago del Estero, Chaco, Córdoba, La Rioja and Catamarca. The rest of the gas stations around the country contain a minimum of 500 ppm of sulfur on their most refine and expensive diesel.

By the 25th of November 2008, a limited number of YPF gas stations will began to sell a diesel fuel named “EURO DIESEL” that will contain 50 or less ppm of sulfur. This imported diesel will supply the demand for EURO IV fuel requirements, mainly for high-end cars that could not be sold because of the poor diesel quality.


Brazil's diesel has 1,800 ppm in rural areas. In the metropolitan areas there are two types of Diesel 50 and 500 ppm. The 50 ppm or EURO IV is used only for Public Transport, Bus services. The general public uses 500 ppm diesel, this is only diesel offered in the filling stations located in the metropolitan areas. The Conama has proposed lowering the sulphur content to 10ppm in 2012, but various sources say that 2017 is a more realistic date .[15]


Uruguay is expected to impose a 50-ppm ULSD limit by 2009. 70% of the fuel used in Uruguay is diesel.[citation needed]



Since 2002, (mainland) China has limited sulfur in diesel fuel to 2000 ppm, with limits of 500 ppm applied for certain cities.[15]


Delhi first introduced ULSD on April 1, 2010 as a step aimed at curbing vehicular pollution in the capital.

The sulphur content in the diesel currently being used was previously 350 parts per million (ppm) while it will be 15 ppm in ULSD.[16]

Hong Kong

In July 2000, Hong Kong became the first city in Asia to introduce ULSD, with sulfur content of 50 parts per million (ppm). In addition, new petrol private cars were asked to meet Euro III standards from 2001.

Since the introduction of the law, all fuel station started supplying ULSD since August 2000.

Sulfur content of regular diesel fuel was lowered from 500 ppm to 350 ppm on 1 January 2001.

As part of the ULSD package, Hong Kong government lowered the tax for ULSD from HK$2.89 to $2.00 per litre in June 1998. The temporary concession was subsequently extended to 31 March 2000, then to 31 December 2000.

On 19 June 2000, under Report of the Subcommittee on resolution under section 4(2) of the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance (Cap. 109), ULSD fuel tax was lowered to HK$1.11 per litre between 7 July 2000 and 31 December 2000, then increased to $2 in 2001, then $2.89 per litre on 1 January 2002. This resolution was passed on 27 June 2000.

Under LC Paper No. LS 37/00-01, which passed in 20 December 2000, the $1.11 per litre tax rate was extended to 30 June 2001.

Under LC Paper No. LS 115/00-01, which passed in 20 June 2001, the $1.11 per litre tax rate was extended to 31 March 2002, then the tax would be raised to $2.89 per litre afterwards.

Under LC Paper No. LS 67/01-02, which passed in 13 March 2002, the $1.11 per litre tax rate was extended to 31 March 2003.

Under LC Paper No. LS 76/02-03, which passed in 19 March 2003, the $1.11 per litre tax rate was extended to 31 March 2004.

Under LC Paper No. LS 59/03-04, which passed in 24 March 2004, the $1.11 per litre tax rate was extended to 31 December 2004.


The National Environment Agency (NEA) defines ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) as diesel fuel with less than 50ppm, or 0.005 per cent, sulfur content.

On June 16, 2005, NEA announced that the use of ULSD would be mandatory beginning December 1, 2005. The regulation also offered tax incentives for Euro IV diesel taxis, buses and commercial vehicles between June 1, 2004 and September 3, 2006, pending a mandatory conversion to Euro IV-compliant vehicles in 2007.


Beginning in 2007, Taiwan has limited sulfur in diesel fuel to 50 ppm, equivalent to the Euro IV standard.[15]



Australia has had a limit of 10ppm since January 1st 2009.[17] The limit was previously 50ppm.

New Zealand

New Zealand has had a limit of 10ppm since January 1st 2009. [18] Prior to that, the limit was 50ppm.

Russia / CIS / Former Soviet Union

As of 2002, much of the former Soviet Union still applies limits on sulfur in diesel fuel substantially higher than in Western Europe. Maximum levels of 2,000 and 5,000 ppm are applied for different uses. In Russia, lower maximum levels of 350 ppm and 500 ppm sulfur in automotive fuel are enforced in certain areas, particularly in regions. Euro IV and Euro V fuel with a concentration of 50 ppm or less is available at certain fueling stations, at least in part to comply with emissions control equipment on foreign-manufactured cars and trucks, number of which is increased every year, especially in big cities, such as Moscow and St.Petersburg. Accordingly to the current technical regulation, selling a fuel with sulfur contant >50 ppm is allowed until 31 December 2011. Euro IV diesel may in particular be available at fueling stations selling to long-distance truck fleets servicing import and export flows between Russia and the EU.[2]

See also


External links

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