Relax: You’re probably running on the new fuel

user-gravatar Headshot

Truckers will experience few surprises in the changeover to ultra-low-sulfur diesel Oct. 15 – one month from today – because 85 percent of diesel sold since Sept. 1 already has been ULSD, says Al Mannato, American Petroleum Institute fuel issues manager. “The vast majority of truckers already have it in their tank,” Mannato says.

Refiners have been producing the new fuel since June. October’s deadline is just for labeling purposes at the pump. After the changeover, ULSD will be the main highway fuel produced, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will not require retail outlets to sell it, according to the Clean Diesel Fuel Alliance, a group that includes the American Automobile Association and the National Association of Truck Stop Operators.

“It is possible that ULSD fuel might not be available initially at every service station or truck stop and that a diesel retailer may choose to sell low-sulfur diesel fuel instead of ULSD fuel,” the alliance says.

By mid-March, 90 percent of the diesel produced for the American market will be ULSD, Mannato says. Trucks from model year 2007 and later must use only ULSD, and they will be so marked on the tank and on the dashboard. Owners of pre-2007 trucks may use either low-sulfur diesel or ULSD during the transition period, but only ULSD will be sold for highway use as of Dec. 1, 2010.

August’s diesel shortages in the middle of the nation reflected increased demand during a drought rather than a diesel supply problem, Mannato says. In fact, 9 percent more diesel was produced for the U.S. market in August 2006 than in August 2005; that’s 1.6 million barrels, compared to 1.4 million a year ago.

Power should be unaffected by ULSD, although fuel economy may be slightly less because the process that removes sulfur also can reduce the energy content of fuel, the Clean Diesel Fuel Alliance says. That energy loss would be tiny, perhaps 1 percent, but any mileage changes would be difficult to predict because wind speed and many other factors affect mileage, Mannato says.

Mannato declines to predict an effect on the per-gallon price of diesel, saying the API does not make pricing forecasts. Diesel prices are less affected than gasoline by changes in the price of crude oil, which went down in mid-September, Mannato says.