Air quality is a matter of concern across the UK, especially in London and the “Northern Powerhouse” of Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. Oxford Street, for example, is one of the most polluted streets in Europe. Two of the main issues are local emissions of nitrous oxides (NOX) and particulate emissions which can have health implications such as respiratory impacts.

Older commercial diesel vehicles and machinery are especially susceptible to high particulate and NOX emissions. According to reports from Kings College London and Clear Air in London, in just the first four days of January 2015, London shoppers’ favourite thoroughfare exceeded nitrous oxide emissions targets for the entire year. 

A new European standard on gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuels, first proposed by Shell nine years ago, could help reduce the impacts of particulate and nitrous oxide emissions by encouraging take-up of GTL fuel. Shell GTL Fuel is a cleaner-burning liquid fuel that is synthetically manufactured from natural gas and, crucially, can be utilised in any diesel engine without the need for any modifications. It is readily biodegradable and non-toxic and is part of a class of fuels known as paraffinic diesel fuels and is one of the technologies that can be used to address air quality in cities. 

Shell believes paraffinic diesel fuels will play an increasingly important role in the fuel mix for heavy duty vehicles, public transport, marine vessels and construction machinery. However because their density is slightly lower than conventional diesel, a new specification from the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) was requested. 

Shell initially proposed the standard to find out if there was a viable commercial market in the UK for these kinds of fuels. Some industries had had concerns that they would be compromising the warranties of machinery if they used GTL fuel as it was not covered by a recognised product standard.  

The ratification of this standard, referred to as EN15940, in April 2016 means that manufacturers may now consider adding these fuels to the list of approved fuels in their user manuals, opening up multiple business opportunities. Indeed, several leading manufacturers have already taken this important step. Shell GTL Fuel can be used as a fuel approved by manufacturers in all diesel applications, such as buses, in construction, even in diesel operated trains and ships.  

“This is an important step for the Shell GTL Fuel business in improving the choice of customers and enabling them to support local air quality commitments across the country,” said Michael Flynn, General Manager for GTL Products at Shell. “EN15940 will now become the fuel standard that is referred to when manufacturers and legislators stipulate conditions specifically concerning use of paraffinic fuels. It will bring quality and safety assurances to customers who can be confident in using a cleaner-burning fuel mix.”

Shell GTL Fuel is produced at the Pearl GTL plant in Ras Laffan, Qatar, the world’s largest facility for turning natural gas into cleaner-burning fuels and lubricants.  Pearl GTL is a development between Qatar Petroleum and Shell.  The fuel is now commercially available in The Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, Denmark and France.

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