Sunday a significant day in the evolution of diesel fuel

| 10/13/2006

This Sunday, Oct. 15 is “D” day – as in ULSD, or ultra-low sulfur diesel.

That’s the day the nation’s 8 million trucks and buses officially transition to ultra-low sulfur diesel.

We say “officially” because the transition to ULSD has actually been underway for several months now – with many truck stops offering a blend of the old low-sulfur diesel and the new ultra-low.

The old could contain up to 500 parts per million of sulfur. The new fuel is to have no more than 15 ppm.

And that’s why Sunday – or “D” day – is significant. On Sunday, retailers who are offering ULSD are supposed to clearly label their pumps as such, and assure that at least 80 percent of their fuel is no more than 15 ppm when it comes to sulfur.

The exception to the national transition is California – where they already transitioned to ULSD on Sept. 1.

Not long ago, a spokesman for Natso, the national organization of truck stop and travel plaza owners, said it might ask the Environmental Protection Agency to delay the transition if problems cropped up.

But the problems Natso anticipated didn’t surface, and the ULSD rollout began.

One diesel truck in 1988 emitted the same amount of harmful soot as 16 trucks will in 2007, something the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Diesel Technology Forum said when they teamed up last week to announce the retail ULSD rollout to the mainstream media.

“Diesel is the invisible force that moves the American economy, but until now it has also been a big polluter,” said Richard Kassel, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

On the downside, there’s concern that ULSD will cost more than the old diesel, that it delivers slightly less power and that its lubricity is lower.

On the upside, proponents say ULSD will reduce harmful emissions from existing engines by 10 percent, and when used in the new 2007 engine, will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

In fact, environmentalists say that Sunday – ULSD day – marks the most significant clean-air milestone since lead was removed from gasoline in the 1970s.

– By Reed Black and David Tanner, staff writers