A Business Guardian Special Reporthttps://guardian.co.tt/news/high-sulphu ... 190ac0645c
Diesel fuel powers the bulk of this country’s commercial transportation industry, both on land and at sea, but the high sulphur content is said to be destroying the engines of modern vehicles.
A Business Guardian investigation has linked the high sulphur content in the fuel to the catastrophic failure of engines and high maintenance costs. This as the T&T Bureau of Standards (TTBS) reports that it is developing new standards for diesel and gasoline fuels.
One major local car dealer admitted his company had been hit with multi-million dollar loses as it had to change hundreds of engines, fuel pumps, injectors and turbochargers all destroyed by low-quality diesel fuel.
The domino effect left new vehicle dealerships overwhelmed as customers with diesel vehicles crowded their service bays pushing out other customers.
Some customers had to fork out considerable sums to repair their vehicles while others were covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
Many people chose to purchase diesel fuel-powered vehicles because it is cheaper fuel and covers more mileage than gasoline.
Now, the resale value of their investments have declined drastically and some dealerships are even refusing to accept those vehicles as part of trade-ins for other vehicles.
Owners of high-end luxury vehicles are among those affected.
One new car dealer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said his company had to bring in foreign experts to assist and pointed to a pile of discarded engines in the garage
Guardian Media reached out to the major new car dealers seeking comment and they chose to respond through the Automotive Dealers Association of T&T.
President of the association Jerome Borde in a statement confirmed that the high sulphur content in diesel fuel was damaging the engines of vehicles.
Apart from irreparable damage to vehicle engines, the reputation of premium vehicle brands are also being compromised.
Mechanics from several leading automobile dealerships, who spoke off the record, as they were not authorised to speak on behalf of their companies, admit the sulphur in the fuel gradually eats away at the engine’s components.
The solution, mechanics say, is to use ultra-low sulphur diesel (ULSD) which would likely cost significantly higher than premium gasoline—which now fetches $5.75 a litre at the pump.
Alternatively, fuel importers can increase the volume of bio-fuel mixed with high sulphur diesel, which would lower the sulphur content and also produce cleaner emissions.
Another mechanic described the effects of local diesel on modern engines as “breathing in sand.”
An almost $3 billion ULSD plant that was being constructed by the now-defunct Petrotrin to produce ULSD remains inoperable because of structural defects and even if the refinery reopens will need significant investments to bring it up to scratch.
The new operators of the refinery, Patriotic Energies and Technologies Company Ltd—a company wholly-owned by the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union— would have to kick-start the plant to produce and sell diesel and other fuels on international and regional markets.
In response to questions from Guardian Media, Paria Fuel Trading Company, the country’s authorised fuel importer, said the fuels it imports, including diesel, are in keeping with the TTBS specification for motor vehicles.
But car manufacturers have long recommended ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel for modern engines.
Vehicle owners who spoke to Guardian Media questioned why they were never told the local diesel supply was not compatible with their vehicles and whether the companies kept it a secret.
One such owner, Dr Rollin Bertrand, who purchased a high-end vehicle from the local dealership Southern Sales recounted his experience after his engine failed.
The former Trinidad Cement Ltd CEO said his mechanic told him there was a “mismatch between the fuel and the engine” of his vehicle.
He said he began to experience problems starting his vehicle and a diagnosis revealed the compression of the engine had “fallen away” because of the effects of the high sulphur content of the fuel.
Bertrand said he eventually had to make contact with the vehicle’s foreign manufacturer after negotiating with the local dealership and was able to get a “significant discount” on a completely new engine which could handle the high sulphur content.
Bertrand surmised that the local car dealers began importing vehicles which required low sulphur diesel as the new Ultra Low Diesel Plant was about to be commissioned by Petrotrin in 2009.
“It is a real scandal. These vehicles are shutting down all over the place. I had to resort to spraying Baygon into the intake of the engine for it to start.
“Imagine a million-dollar vehicle starting like an old truck,” he said.
Bertrand said he was told by the local dealership that before the diesel vehicles were sold on the local market, agents for the foreign company took a local sample of the fuel for testing and approved it.
Riad Ali, a manager at Lifestyle Motors, admitted that the local diesel had affected the performance of some of the vehicles.
He suggested shorter periods for servicing as a counter-measure.
Another executive at a Port-of-Spain-based car dealership suggested that Paria import ultra-low diesel fuel and give customers the choice, just as in Premium and Super gasoline.
He too said the local diesel fuel had been tested before a decision was taken to import the high-end vehicles but claimed that it degraded over time.
Paria Fuel says it has received requests to bring in ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel from customers who own luxury European vehicles but declined because the demand was too low.
The company said it was aware that Claxton Bay company, AM Marketing, was importing ultra-low sulphur diesel and retailing it at $2,812 a barrel (200 litres). That works out to $14 a litre compared to $3.41 a litre for diesel sold at the pump.
AM Marketing did not respond to a request for an interview but Guardian Media confirmed their sale of ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel.
Paria Fuel says it intends to import ultra-low sulphur diesel during the second half of 2020 and the trading price will be determined by the market price at that time.
Before November 2018, State-owned Petrotrin produced all fuel for the local market.
In the last few months before its closure, the diesel fuel it produced fell way below the acceptable limits of sulphur set by the TTBS.
Confidential data for that period from National Petroleum showed the sulphur content increased by almost 200 per cent.
Data seen by Guardian Media showed the sulphur content in diesel fuel sky-rocketing to over 2,800 parts per million (ppm) in some instances.
Since Paria Fuel came on stream there has been an improvement in the quality of diesel fuel imported. Data from National Petroleum show the imported diesel fuel has close to 900 ppm.
The TTBS says the compulsory standard for diesel fuel is 1,000 ppm. The standard for gasoline is 500 ppm.
Local car dealers told Guardian Media that the recommended diesel sulphur content for modern vehicles was between 10 to 500 ppm.
The TTBS says its current standard issued in 2011 was “now outdated” and the organisation “initiated the revision process in June 2019 to align the chemical requirements for diesel fuel to international requirements aimed at:-
1) ensuring acceptable product quality and
2) protecting the environment in accordance with TTBS’ legal mandate (Chapter 82:03)”
The TTBS stated that as part of its enforcement regime for this compulsory standard, it would have conducted analyses of Certificates of Quality (CoQ) produced by the now-defunct Petrotrin and for diesel imported by Paria Fuel.
“From the analyses of the CoQs, it is evident that there has been an improvement in the quality of diesel imported into the country. Some areas of improvement include reduced sulphur content and total aromatic hydrocarbons,” the organisation said.
“In addition, we are currently developing a more rigorous enforcement procedure which will include testing by independent test laboratories to ensure that all fuel (whether imported or locally manufactured) conform to the requirements of the relevant national compulsory standard.”
Asked specifically whether there have been any complaints from local car dealerships regarding the quality of diesel fuel used by high-end vehicles such as Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen BMW, Mercedes Benz, Land Rover, the TTBS said it has received requests from key stakeholders in the local car industry to revise the national fuel standards, as recent as December 2018.
“TTBS has made a decision to proceed with this request to commence the revision of the national compulsory standard for diesel, as well as gasoline, in collaboration with other key stakeholders with regulatory oversight for the energy sector. The revision process for the diesel and gasoline standards officially commenced in June 2019.”
But mechanics say the shift to more suitable diesel fuel needs to be done much sooner to prevent further degradation of engines.
Many of the vehicles manufactured in Europe, UK and now Japan must meet international standards regarding low emissions to protect the environment and manufacturers recommend fuel with low sulphur content.
Asked whether there has been any request to improve the standards of diesel fuel to meet the requirements of Euro-spec fuel in keeping with the manufacturers’ recommendation for the type of fuel to be used in high-end luxury vehicles, the Macoya-based regulatory body said it will use international benchmarks to inform the revision of the national standard for diesel fuel.
“We have looked at the Euro-6 specification which is 10 ppm for sulphur and ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) International Standard which specifies 500 ppm for Low Sulphur Diesel and 15 ppm for Ultra-Low Sulphur Diesel.
“The standardisation process requires consultation with industry stakeholders to ensure feedback is received on all proposed compulsory requirements,” the TTBS said.
Statement for Automotive Dealers Association of Trinidad and Tobago
“ADATT has for many years raised concerns with the high sulphur content in the diesel supplied to the local market.
All the local agencies in the supply chain are aware of the potential damage high sulphur can cause to the engines running on diesel.
In most cases the content is twice the maximum tolerance level.
The result has been an enormous cost to dealers who out of goodwill have undertaken to repair at no cost to the consumer.
We look forward to the day our supply meets the ultra low sulphur requirements of most markets.”