Tackling Europe’s clean air problem

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has warned that most EU countries are failing to meet air quality standards that were set more than 20 years ago.

A report, by the ECA, highlights that air pollution is now the “biggest environmental risk” to public health in Europe. An estimated 400,000 premature deaths are linked to air pollution in the EU every year.

The most harmful air pollutants include nitrogen dioxide, ground level ozone and particulate matter. Urban populations are the most vulnerable to air pollution, resulting in health problems such as liver and blood disease, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions and various cancers.

Fuel ethers play a key role in improving air quality in Europe, and positively impact on all three of the EU’s clean air pillars

As a large amount of urban pollution comes from vehicle emissions, a move to cleaner-burning fuels could have a huge impact. European citizens are well aware of the problem of air pollution – it is second only to climate change as their biggest concern. As such, regulators and industry are under pressure to act.

The EU has responded by setting out a ‘clean air for all’ policy, based on three key pillars:

  • Ambient air quality standards for ground level ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, dangerous heavy metals and a number of other pollutants.
  • National emission reduction targets for the most important trans-boundary air pollutants: sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter.
  • Emissions standards for key sources of pollution, from vehicle and ship emissions, to energy and industry.

Fuel ethers play a key role in improving air quality in Europe, and positively impact on all three of the EU’s clean air pillars. Used as a blending component of petrol to boost octane and oxygen levels, fuel ethers have the lowest ozone-forming potential of all oxygen-containing octane boosters. When used in vehicle engines, they also reduce the emission of carbon monoxide, toxics and particulate matter. In fact, if all the fuel ethers currently blended into European petrol were removed, emissions of particulate matter would rise by 30%.

In Mexico City, formerly the ‘most polluted city on the planet’, petrol blended with fuel ethers is a requirement in urban areas. This, alongside other measures, has made a significant difference to air quality. The success of this type of initiative is a valuable lesson for Europe’s regulators and industry to consider.

Improving the quality of fuel used in vehicles could make a major difference to both Europe’s environment, and the health of its citizens.