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Opinion: Supporting cleaner fuels and the fight against climate change

SAPIA executive director Avhapfani Tshifularo

SAPIA executive director Avhapfani Tshifularo

28th September 2023

     

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In this article, South African Petroleum Industry Association (SAPIA) executive director Avhapfani Tshifularo writes about the association's support for the Clean Fuels 2 initiative and the benefits of using clean fuels, as well as the association's support for introducing biofuels into the fuel pool.

In keeping with the South African petroleum industry's continual commitment to limit its impact on climate change, the SAPIA is pleased to support the government-mandated Clean Fuels 2 initiative and its potential impact on reducing harmful tailpipe emissions.

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) mandated implementing the Clean Fuels 2 programme as of July 1, 2027. This programme instructs the sales to consumers of petrol and diesel containing a maximum of 10 ppm sulphur (by weight) and places further constraints on some components in petrol, namely benzene, aromatics and olefins. This programme is vital for several reasons, including improving tailpipe emissions and contributing to the fight against climate change.

Mandating these regulations has resulted in a process driven primarily by the South African Bureau of Standards to review and update the relevant standards associated with petrol and diesel. Although subsidiary to the regulations under the DMRE, these standards are, nevertheless, aligned to these regulations and are ultimately the reference by which fuel is measured by that is sold in the market.

The marketing of these fuels will also allow the National Regulator for Compulsory Regulations to compel the sale of vehicles that are homologated to a level higher than that currently provided, namely Euro 2, from July 2027.

BENEFICIAL EFFECTS OF CLEAN FUELS
SAPIA supports implementing this programme, as it will reduce harmful tailpipe emissions, improve ambient air quality and contribute to the fight against climate change. For example, reducing sulphur in petrol and diesel will reduce particulate matter emissions (so-called black carbon) in both old and new vehicles, which is detrimental to human health and has significant global warming potential. This is because sulphur has a catalytic effect in forming small black carbon particulates, and the reduction of sulphur in fuel will reduce the production of these particulates.   

Notably, introducing the Clean Fuels 2 programme will allow the introduction of advanced vehicle technologies that will reduce consumption and improve tailpipe emissions further. The improvement in tailpipe emissions is due to the functioning of the sophisticated catalytic converters present in today's modern vehicles, together with the energy management systems of these cars. These systems also reduce vehicle fuel consumption. For example, in South Africa, petrol consumption has fallen from about 11-billion litres a year a decade ago to about nine-billion litres a year today, despite the increase in the number of petrol cars in the intervening period. The programme will also facilitate the introduction of more hybrid vehicle models in the market, further reducing consumption and improving overall emissions performance.

Hence, introducing the Clean Fuels 2 programme will impact the transport sector's greenhouse-gas (GHG) performance, reducing its contribution to the South African GHG inventory from 11% (2017), all things being equal.

LOCAL MANUFACTURE OF CLEAN FUELS
South Africa has recently experienced the opportunistic closure of three refineries for various reasons, including reducing the carbon footprint of refining entities and the cost required for upgrades. SAPIA has lobbied for years for financial assistance to affect these upgrades, but this has been brushed aside despite the provision of data to government entities in support of the importance of the industry. Consequently, these refineries have shut down, negatively impacting the balance of payments, security of supply of liquid fuels, and employment.

In a study commissioned by SAPIA based on 2019 information, the liquid fuels industry contributed about R163-billion (3.2%) to South Africa's gross domestic product. Refining alone provided about 40% of this, with 25% of the 250 000 people directly or indirectly employed by refining. It is thus apparent that misguided government policy has cost people their livelihoods and contributed to an overall fall in the standard of living.

BIOFUELS AND ITS IMPACTS
Over and above introducing the Clean Fuels 2 programme, SAPIA also supports introducing biofuels into the fuel pool. The introduction of biofuels presents several different advantages – it can promote employment in the agricultural and manufacturing value chains; contribute to the decarbonisation of the liquid fuels sector through the substitution of fossil fuel with biofuel; promote a circular economy and reduce our exposure to the negative balance of payments through offsetting liquid fuel imports by local biofuel production.  

However, the government has been very lax in providing a regulatory framework under which this industry may flourish, including a rational excise policy and support for such a nascent industry.

It is well known that the fossil fuel industry is the primary target in the fight against climate change. The current energy transition to address the climate change question will result in significant changes to the energy provision make-up in South Africa – for the supply of electrical energy or chemical energy from fuels for transport or for heat production. It is anticipated that liquid fuels will remain a significant part of the transportation landscape over the next two decades, and the introduction of Clean Fuels 2 should also be seen in the context of the fight against climate change.

Likewise, introducing biofuels into the liquid fuels pool will also be a contributory factor in this fight. As the country transitions its transportation sector to longer-term electrical and, perhaps, hydrogen mobility, both must be promoted.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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