African refineries need to give priority 
to reducing sulphur levels in fuels

27th March 2009 By: Jade Davenport - Creamer Media Correspondent

The initial findings of a major sub-Saharan African health and oil refining study have indicated that African oil refineries are likely to con-centrate on the reduction of sulphur in automotive fuels as a logical next step to the 2001 initiative that saw the removal of lead from petrol.

The initial findings of this World Bank/African Refiners Association (ARA) 
Sub-Saharan Africa Health and Refining Study were presented to delegates attending the fourth annual conference of the ARA, in Cape Town, last week.

Addressing delegates attending the con-ference, World Bank coordinator for the Oil, Gas and Mining Policy Division – Africa Region Eleodoro Mayorga Alba explained that the study was commissioned in March 2008 to examine the current and future situation of the sub-Saharan African refining sector.

Essentially, the study was prompted by rapid economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade, which had caused greater urbanisation and vehicle use along with increased air pollution and 
its associated health impacts, partic-
ularly among the urban poor, continued Alba.

The study, the first of its kind in the region, was funded by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme and the ARA and cosponsored by United Nations Environment Pro-gramme, and the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association.

It was undertaken by major consulting company ICF International and Citac Africa, a London-based company special-ising in African refining and marketing.

Addressing delegates, head of the study’s steering committee Zeta Rosenburg stated that the study essentially evaluated the impact of a change to improved fuel specifications on refining operations, air quality and human health.

Rosenburg elaborated that it was a purely economic study estimating the costs of improving the quality of transportation fuels consumed in sub-Saharan Africa.

The study was modelled out to 2020 and examined all 49 sub-Saharan African countries, divided into three large product demand sub-regions, including west, east and south. 
It consisted of two parts, including a health study and a refinery sector study.

The aim of the health study was to estimate the change in air emissions associated with the improved transportation fuel specifications in terms of the reduction of sulphur to analyse the impact of the change on human health, and to estimate the health benefits in economic terms.

Rosenburg explained that the health study results indicated that there was the potential for significant health benefits in sub-Saharan Africa’s urban areas associ-ated with the use of improved-quality transport fuels.

Essentially, the improvement of transportation fuels would reduce the urban health cost associated with cases of bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

The aim of the refinery sector study was to outline the upgrades necessary in the African refining sector to respond to global market and clean fuel trends, and to clarify the associated costs in terms of both the refining investments and the impacts on the delivered cost of petrol and diesel products in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rosenburg continued that this com-panion study indicated that, despite the current global economic crisis, the benefits of investing in cleaner fuel technologies outweighed the costs for many African refineries. 
This was particularly the case for the larger oil refineries with access to greater markets.

The advantages of improving fuel quality were more pronounced in West Africa than in East Africa, while South Africa proved to be the exception as the country already had good-quality fuels, said Rosenburg.

Although these were only the initial findings of the study, Alba said that the work that had been undertaken thus far was impressive.

He concluded that the World Bank/ARA 
sub-Saharan Africa Health and Refining Study would be completed and published in June.