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Some groundbreaking news on the diesel front – Euro 5-grade diesel will be available in Malaysia in the coming few weeks. Don’t get too excited just yet, because it will only be in selected parts of the southern region, namely the state of Johor.

The announcement of the move was made today by think-tank Malaysian Automotive Institute (MAI) during an informal discussion session with the press. It said the move to introduce the fuel is due to necessity, primarily for commercial purposes, specifically for lorries that have to make the daily trip in and out of Singapore.

The republic had earlier announced that effective Jan 1, 2014, all in-use diesel powered vehicles entering the country would be required to meet its new permissible levels of smoke opacity. It later gave a six-month grace period before fully implementing the new rule, but as of July 1, there’s no looking back.

The adjustment, made by Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA), lowered the permissible level of black smoke emitted from a vehicle from a previous 50 HSU (Hartridge Smoke Units) to 40 HSU, and with quality of diesel fuel directly affecting smoke emissions from vehicles, all diesel-powered vehicles inbound to the island, be they private or commercial, are bound to fail.

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Malaysia’s Euro 2M-grade diesel fuel standard allows for a sulphur content of 500 parts per million. Conversely, Euro 5 diesel has only 10 ppm of sulphur content – it has been in use in Singapore since 2010, thus making it possible for Singaporean vehicles to easily meet the 40 HSU standard.

Aside from the possibility of offending diesel vehicles being barred from entering Singapore, the perpetrators will also be slapped with hefty fines, with previous reports indicating that it would be S$150 (RM394) for first time offenders, rising to S$200 (RM525) and S$300 (RM787) for each subsequent violation.

Though owners of older, smoky private diesel vehicles (namely pickups) won’t be able to dodge the law, the new ruling will directly affect ageing lorries and buses that ply the route. Every day, up to 3,000 commercial vehicles go in and out of the island; our trade with our neighbour is worth RM4 billion a year, and land transportation remains integral to it.

Currently, Malaysian diesel engines on commercial vehicles are mostly of Euro 1 or 2 standard, MAI’s CEO Madani Sahari said, and while some operators have tried to import Euro 4-compliant engines, this has not been viable in terms of longevity and maintenance, as long-term usage of Euro 2M diesel ends up wreaking havoc on the fuel pump and injectors in these units.

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Going the diesel particulate filter route – which burns-off the excess soot in the form of gas from the engine – is an option to bring smoke emission levels down to permissible levels, Madani explained, but added that the cost of installation is costly, at around RM65,000 per unit, and the filter will only be effective for about a year before it needs to be changed.

So, to keep the wheels turning while obeying the law, the government has allowed the commercial availability of a diesel-grade that will meet the rules, in this case Euro 5. Following discussions with MITI and MAI, BHPetrol has agreed to provide the supply of Euro 5 diesel, and the imported fuel will be available at 15 to 20 of its stations out of its nearly 50 stations in the state of Johor.

Tests carried out on utilising Euro 5 diesel on existing Euro 1 and Euro 2 diesel engines on commercial vehicles have shown that permissible levels meeting Singapore’s HSU standards can be achieved, with a 10% to 50% reduction (as seen in the chart below), so that’s the immediate route chosen. Older lorries that are unable to meet the requirements will have to go the particulate filter route for compliance.

The neat thing is that non-commercial vehicles can purchase the fuel too, even though it’s meant for the latter. Which means that if you own a diesel vehicle and live nearby, you’ll be able to pump Euro 5 diesel into your ride. And all it will cost is an extra 10 sen per litre on top of what it goes for now (which is RM2.00 per litre for Euro 2M diesel), according to Madani.

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That’s right, Euro 5 diesel at RM2.10 per litre. While importing it is a costlier option to begin with, the government is subsidising the Euro 5-standard fuel to existing levels of subsidisation, with the extra 10 sen being borne by the consumer.

Before anyone suggests why the entire country can’t go that route now, or for that matter, the Klang Valley for a start, Madani said that since BHPetrol imports all its fuel stocks, there’s no stopping its stations from the Klang Valley from having Euro 5 diesel at their pumps. He added that there was no regulated supply in the move to introduce Euro 5 diesel, and that any company could do it – only BHPetrol made this initial move.

Such a move would be welcome news for many, of course, especially owners of grey import diesels. Last week, it was reported that Mercedes-Benz Malaysia had said that any failures in Mercedes-Benz cars brought in through unofficial channels would not be accepted under warranty by Daimler AG, as these grey imports are unprepared for local fuel quality.

Incidentally, BHPetrol’s fuel stocks (for petrol) were already at an Euro 3-minimum level some two years back. At its Infiniti Advanced 2x petrol launch in October 2012, the company revealed that the sulphur content in its stocks brought in from Singapore were consistently lower than 500 ppm, with its median average in 2011 being 117 ppm, and in 2012 (up to September) at 131 ppm.

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Then, those numbers were lower than the Euro 3 standard of 150 ppm, placing it between that and Euro 4′s 50 ppm. The company added that some batches of its imported petrol stock had sulphur content registering as low as 12 ppm, close to Euro 5 standard.

An aside on the other oil and gas companies, especially the two primary players in the country; Petronas is still a ways away from delivering its first Euro 4-grade fuel – its Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex is set to deliver Euro 4 diesel and petrol to Malaysians, but that won’t come online until sometime in 2017, we were told by sources. Shell, meanwhile, hasn’t revealed its transition plans as yet.

In any case, Euro 4 (or Euro 4M) fuel is integral in the new Energy Efficient Vehicles (EEV) incentives policy outlined in NAP 2014, and the last news about that was that studies were being done on it before a timeframe for deployment was announced. It’s certainly taking its time – Euro 4 was, back in 2011, scheduled to be introduced this year.

This side move, brought about by necessity for the protection of trade, may be a significant step forward and provide the catalyst to finally getting us on the road in having a national fuel grade up to par with evolving global standards, a small a step it may be. As it goes along, if things don’t change, we’ll simply find ourselves getting left behind further and further. And dirtier as well. “We need to have better fuel quality, not just for technological reasons, but environmental ones too,” Madani added.