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Fuel Quality

Common fuel quality rules are an important element in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport. They also ensure that air pollutant emissions from vehicles are optimally reduced, a single fuel market is established and vehicles operate correctly everywhere in the EU.

© European Commission

EU legislation requires a reduction of the greenhouse gas intensity of the fuels used in vehicles by up to 10% by 2020 – a Low Carbon Fuel Standard. This legislation, the Fuel Quality Directive, also regulates the sustainability of biofuels. It has previously led to drastic reductions in the sulphur content of fuels, enabling the deployment of vehicle technologies to reduce greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, and delivering substantial health and environmental benefits.

Some key elements of the legislation are as follows:

Applicable fuels and intermediate targets

The Fuel Quality Directive applies to all petrol, diesel and biofuels used in road transport, as well as to gasoil used in non-road-mobile machinery. The 10% reduction target is made up of:

  • a 6% reduction in the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels by 2020, with intermediate indicative targets of 2% by 2014 and 4% by 2017;
  • an additional 2% reduction subject to developments in new technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS); and
  • a further 2% reduction to come from the purchase of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) credits.

Suppliers can choose to group together to meet these targets jointly.

Emissions reporting covers full life-cycle

The greenhouse gas intensity of fuels is calculated on a life-cycle basis, meaning that the emissions from the extraction, processing and distribution of fuels are included. Direct life-cycle greenhouse gas emission reductions are calculated from a 2010 baseline of fossil fuel greenhouse gas intensity.

Biofuel sustainability

For biofuels to count towards the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets they must meet certain sustainability criteria set out in the Directive to minimise the undesired impacts from their production. These include that:

  • the greenhouse gas emissions must be at least 35% lower than from the fossil fuel they replace. From 2017 this increases to 50% and from 2018 the saving must be at least 60% for new installations;
  • The raw materials for biofuels cannot be sourced from land with high biodiversity or high carbon stock.

Taking account of indirect land use change

Moving forward with biofuels

As global demand for biofuels rises, their production can contribute to the conversion of land such as forests and wetlands into agricultural land, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions from indirect land use change (ILUC) can significantly reduce or even wipe out the greenhouse gas savings from biofuels.

To account for this, in October 2012 the European Commission proposed amending the Fuel Quality Directive to include ILUC factors in the reporting of the greenhouse gas emission savings from biofuels under the directive.

Food-based biofuels and bioliquids often contribute to land conversion. The Commission has therefore also proposed limiting the amount of food-based biofuels that can be counted towards the EU's target of reaching a 10% share of renewable energy in the transport sector by 2020. The proposed limit for food-based biofuels is 5%, the current consumption level.

This limit will allow non-food based biofuels to make a greater contribution to meeting the 10% target. Second- and third-generation biofuels produced from materials that do not create an additional demand for land, including algae, straw and various types of waste, have low or no ILUC emissions.

More information and useful documents relating to biofuels and indirect land use change can be found under the documentation and studies tabs above.

Reducing air pollution

Besides reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels, the legislation also governs other elements of fuel quality primarily linked to air pollutant emissions. Thanks to the mandatory introduction of sulphur-free fuels under the directive, by 2009 the average sulphur content of petrol and diesel had fallen below 10 ppm, from 50 ppm and over 200 ppm respectively in 2001.

Fuel quality monitoring reports can be found under the documentation tab above.