By Aaron Stone
New Zealand is a country that bases its global reputation on a ‘clean green’ image. Tourism New Zealand’s ‘100% Pure’ marketing campaign has been running since 1999, leveraging stunning, seemingly untouched, scenery to demonstrate environmental pre-eminence. Even though this marketing angle has been criticized recently by some as ‘puffery’ and perhaps misaligned with wider environmental practices, such a statement delivers an expectation that the country should be a leader in delivering fuel standards that encourage lower emissions and protect the environment.
On 22 August 2017, New Zealand Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins announced noteworthy changes to New Zealand’s petrol and diesel specifications. The amendments to Engine Fuel Specifications Regulations 2011, which sets out minimum standards for fuel performance and minimising harmful components, are designed to “support the growth of lower-emission fuels that are better for people, the environment and cars,” says Collins.
New Zealand’s fuel specifications have been tightened substantially since 2001 in an effort to reduce harmful vehicle emissions and encourage the development of clean vehicle technologies — though you would probably categorise the small Pacific nation as a ‘fast follower’ rather than a global innovator in this space. The evolution of the New Zealand fuel specifications reflects a continual balancing of cost and flexibility for fuel suppliers against environmental and public health considerations.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is responsible for administering the regulations which provide comprehensive fuel specifications for petrol, ethanol, petrol/ethanol blends, diesel, biodiesel and diesel/biodiesel blends. The new regulations are the product of a two-year development process following the release of a public discussion document in September 2015.
Fuel and motor industry related stakeholders, the Ministry of Transport, Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, Environmental Protection Authority, the Treasury and the Ministry for the Environment were all consulted on the proposed regulations. A total of 14 submissions were received, after which “targeted engagement occurred with submitters on an issue-by-issue basis,” according to former Minister of Energy and Resources, Simon Bridges, in a cabinet paper outlining the proposed amendments.
Clearly, the development of new regulations aims to improve the quality of fuel, and ensure it is ‘appropriate for New Zealand’s vehicle fleet and climatic conditions.’ However, Bridges outlined several objectives of the review including improving environmental and public health outcomes by reducing harmful vehicle emissions and improving air quality; enabling new, cleaner vehicle technologies; providing an adequate level of consumer protection by ensuring fuel that is fit for purpose can be supplied to consumers; providing as much flexibility as possible to fuel suppliers within appropriate environmental, public health and consumer protection constraints (i.e. an ‘open specification’) and promoting the government’s objectives around biofuels.
Enhancing security of supply is critical in a small country like New Zealand to minimise costs to consumers. The country’s sole refinery at Marsden Point near Whangarei is responsible for supplying 62% of New Zealand’s petrol and 75% of its diesel demand (2015). Imports from refineries around the Asia-Pacific region account for the remainder of demand, though most biofuels are domestically produced.
The recent changes to New Zealand’s fuel standards encompass four significant components; raising New Zealand’s limit for methanol in petrol from 1% to 3% volume; increasing the biodiesel blend limit in diesel from 5% to 7%; introducing a total oxygen limit; and reducing the maximum sulphur level allowed in petrol from 50 to 10 parts per million (ppm). Fourteen minor and technical changes accompany these amendments to improve the technical clarity of the specifications, to update test methods to reflect technology enhancements and to align with international best practice.
REDUCING THE MAXIMUM SULPHUR LEVEL IN PETROL
Reducing the maximum sulphur level in petrol is “specifically targeted to reduce harmful emissions, which will have health and environmental benefits,” says Collins, and will align New Zealand with increasingly stringent fuel standards throughout Europe, Japan and the United States.
The move from 50 ppm to 10 ppm, known as ultra-low sulphur, reduces emissions that arise from sulphur combustion in petrol that include oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter, sulphur oxides, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide. Ultra-low sulphur petrol is a prerequisite for recent exhaust emissions standards and recommended for modern efficient vehicles.
The Marsden Point refinery already produces 10 ppm petrol. South Korea and Singapore provide the bulk of fuel imports to New Zealand. South Korea is already 10 ppm petrol compliant and Singapore is in the process of moving to 10 ppm in 2017. “There should be ample quantities of 10 ppm petrol available in the Asia-Pacific region to meet New Zealand’s import requirements,” advised Bridges in his cabinet paper. Though, to mitigate concerns around reduced supply availability, lower limits for sulphur content in fuels will not apply until 1 July 2018.
INTRODUCING A TOTAL OXYGEN LIMIT
Oxygenates are increasingly used as an emission control strategy to reduce carbon monoxide (CO) and, to a lesser extent, hydrocarbon emissions, by promoting the cleaner burning of engine fuels. Typically, individual oxygenates are capped by a total oxygen limit alongside limits to individual oxygenates — to provide fuel suppliers added flexibility in the use of different oxygenates.
New Zealand’s fuel specification did not include a total oxygen limit prior to August 2017, instead opting for a 10% limit on ethanol (equivalent to a total oxygen limit of 3.7% mass) and a 1% limit for ‘other oxygenates.’ The government proposal suggests previous specifications for oxygen were more stringent than any comparative jurisdiction. The new total oxygen limit is 2.7% mass for petrol blended with not more than 5% volume ethanol and 3.7% mass for petrol blended with more than 5%, but not more than 10%, volume ethanol. The current parameter of 1% volume for ‘other oxygenates’ has been removed. The government anticipates increased flexibility and choice for fuel suppliers, with a potential reduction in cost for consumers.
INTRODUCING A LIMIT OF 3.0% VOLUME FOR METHANOL
The previous methanol limit was 1% volume. When compared to fuel standards in the U.S., Europe and Australia, this standard is ‘particularly restrictive.’ The New Zealand government claims the limit has effectively negated the sale of methanol/petrol blends in New Zealand, reduced the supply pool and increased costs to consumers. Extending the limit to 3% to allow for methanol blends has the potential to improve environmental outcomes from reduced emissions, greater energy diversity and security of supply, they say. Methanol production in New Zealand could also displace imports into the country.
However, the use of methanol was not supported by vehicle manufacturer representatives who highlighted increased wear on engine components, a reduced service life of injectors, increased risk of phase separation, and the potential to adversely affect an engine’s starting performance.
Bridges asserts that these risks can be mitigated by using corrosion inhibitors and co-solvents, while waivers around the vapour pressure requirements (as provided for in ethanol-petrol blends) can address cold start performance concerns.
INCREASING THE BIODIESEL BLEND LIMIT
The New Zealand government has a policy of promoting biofuel uptake where this is ‘commercially viable and technically feasible’ to encourage a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing the biodiesel limit, raising the methanol blend limit, and the introduction of a total oxygen limit is expected to increase demand for biofuels, allow more flexibility in fuel mixes and enhance the security of local supply.
The 2011 regulations enabled biodiesel to be blended into diesel up to a maximum of 5%. An increase to 7% aligns the limit with the European fuel standard. However, vehicle manufacturers cited operability concerns from a 7% blend limit. The introduction of a labeling requirement for biodiesel blends of more than 5% was proposed to alleviate these fears.
These new regulations have largely evolved in step with international developments in vehicle technology and stakeholders have been broadly supportive of the changes, with unanimous support for the minor/ technical changes, said Bridges in his cabinet paper. The government was also quick to advise that the changes are largely ‘enabling provisions’ to boost choice and flexibility, as opposed to forcing industry participants into unwanted change.
Three of the four amendments took effect on 2 October 2017, though, as mentioned previously, the lower limits for sulphur content in fuels won’t apply until 1 July 2018.