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United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has rolled out an initiative aimed at reducing sulphur levels in diesel to cut down pollution caused by vehicles in Kenya.
United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has rolled out an initiative aimed at reducing sulphur levels in diesel to cut down pollution caused by vehicles in Kenya. It wants the government to introduce new rules to cut the level to 500 parts per million (ppm) in imported diesel from January next year to protect the environment.
Black smoke

The benefits of using such fuel include reduction of particulate matter such as visible black smoke, decreased corrosion of car pistons and cylinder liner wear of engines, extended lubricant life and increased oil drain interval.

National Environment Management Agency (Nema) and the Petroleum Institute of East Africa (PIEA) are backing the initiative for Kenya to meet a 2010 global deadline of using low sulphur diesel. Imported diesel (automotive gas oil) contains 5,000 ppm of sulphur with the Mombasa-based refinery producing diesel with 10,000 ppm.

According to Unep, Kenya’s continued use of automotive gas oil of 10,000 parts per million is associated with high emission of sulphur dioxide that causes respiratory problems and acid rain. “Sulphur dioxide is detrimental to human health as emission of high levels of particulate matter causes bronchitis and respiratory problems,” said Unep’s programme officer Jane Akumu.

She said sulphur dioxide is corrosive adding that Kenya has to embrace cleaner fossil fuels use and adopt the right diesel engines if it is to protect its environment and the health of citizens. Kenya is expected to publish new diesel standards targeting imports to 500 ppm before the end of this year. Tanzania is also expected to do the same as the standards are ready.

A study recently concluded by the World Bank and African Refiners Association concluded that sub-Saharan Africa stands to gain $43 billion over 10 years in health benefits from low sulphur and strict vehicle standards. Mozambique changed her diesel import specifications in 2007 to the right level which also led to Malawi taking the same route. Zimbabwe is also set to switch to diesel with lower sulphur content.

Unep working with the Ministry of Environment and Energy and PIEA as partners with other stakeholders on national low sulphur fuels sensitisation, have held meetings in Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi. Nema and other stakeholders are lobbying the government to table a new Bill in Parliament to cap the maximum sulphur content of diesel used in Kenya at 500 ppm with effect from next year.

“Passage of the Bill is the initial step as we will in future continue to advocate for sulphur reduction to 50 ppm that is globally recommended,” said Nema director general Muusya Mwinzi.

Air quality

He said they had developed air quality regulations which are yet to be gazzetted as this is a critical pillar in the pursuit of a clean and healthy environment for all Kenyans. Mr Mwinzi said regulating mobile vehicle emissions will be difficult as they result directly from external factors such as quality of fuel imports and Kenya Petroleum Refinery Ltd processing capacity.

According to PIEA’s general manager Wanjiku Manyara there is consensus among stakeholders for imported diesel to conform to the set standards as industry becomes proactive to reduce air pollution. She said marketers had asked the Ministry of Energy to issue a gazette notice requiring fuel with the right sulphur level to be imported effective January 1, 2010.

Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has crafted new regulations to reduce sulphur levels to 500 ppm next year while the oil refinery will be upgraded in future to produce diesel of 30 parts per million.

Carbon residue

The proposal by the standards body is awaiting gazettement before the year ends. Other parameters that Kebs looked into in the review process included viscosity and carbon residue. In this initiative, Unep is partnering with other stakeholders to sensitise the public and decision makers on environmental and health benefits of lower sulphur fuels and adoption of cleaner vehicle technologies.

Ms Akumu said Unep’s Urban Unit is assisting Kenya among other governments south of Sahara to develop policies to improve quality of air under Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles. “Five hundred ppm will reduce emissions from all vehicles, new or old irrespective of maintenance regimes. Kenya should target going to lower than 50 ppm to improve quality of air in urban areas,” she said.

To achieve its goal, Unep under the partnership is urging developing countries and private sector players to work together to phase out traces of sulphur in diesel. The project began in Kenya in June this year based on a small scale funding agreement between Nema, Motor Vehicle Inspection and Unep.

The agreement was based on the recommendations of the Fourth Global Partnership Meeting of the PFCFV held at Unep headquarters in Nairobi in December 2005.