European Sulphur Directives - Low sulphur fuel

Technical Option | Specific Example
Air | Energy | Transport

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Sulphur is naturally present in small quantities in liquid and solid fuels. However, since the introduction of the Directive relating to the sulphur content of certain fuels (i.e. 1993/12/EEC), and subsequent amendments (1998/70/EC, 1999/32/EC, and 2005/33/EC), the sulphur content in fuel has been significantly reduced, contributing to lower sulphur dioxide emissions.


Following this Directive (and amendments), Member States have undertaken to stop using heavy fuel oils with a sulphur content of over 1% by mass since January 2003.

However, a Member State may permit the use of heavy fuel oils with a sulphur content of between 1% and 3% by mass, throughout or in part of its territory, if the emissions do not cause the critical levels in a Member State to be exceeded and if the air quality standards laid down in Directive 80/779/EEC (which has been replaced by Directive 1999/30/EC), and in all other legislation repealing and replacing those standards are respected.

Member States must ensure that gas oil (including gas oil for maritime use) is not used on their territory from:

  • 1 July 2000 if the sulphur content is more than 0.20% by mass;
  • 1 January 2008 if the sulphur content is more than 0.10% by mass.

In certain cases (sudden change of supply), the Commission may authorise a Member State to apply higher values on its territory, for a period not exceeding 6 months, if the Member State has difficulty in meeting its obligations under the Directive. The Commission must notify its decision to the Council and the other Member States.

The Directive provides for verification of the sulphur content of fuels by sampling and analysis.

On the basis of the results of the analyses, Member States must submit a report to the Commission on the sulphur content of the liquid fuels subject to the Directive no later than 30 June each year.

The Commission must submit a report to the European Parliament and the Council no later than 31 December 2006, together with any proposals for amending the Directive.


Generally speaking, removal efficiencies for sulphur dioxide from low sulphur fuels are relatively high (i.e. often in excess of 60%). However, depending on the sector in which the low sulphur fuel is applied will determine the extent of emissions reductions.

Costs & Benefits

There were initial suggestions that by adapting these fuels and lowering the sulphur content that the price would increase. However, given that the share of low sulphur fuels has now almost completely absorbed the market there are no longer any concerns regarding price differentials between fuel types, while the benefits of lower emissions still remain.

Evidence & Reference

  • Details on the Directive for low sulphur content of fuels

Modelling this Measure

The table below displays the removal efficiencies for various low sulphur fuels (and their sulphur content), and where there is a range of removal efficiencies it is due to the different sectors that use the specific fuel type. The table is derived from values in the GAINS model.


Fuel type
LSCK Low sulphur coke 0.6% 25% - 36%
LSCO Low sulphur coal 0.6% 39.4%
LSGSL Low sulphur gasoline 0.001% 90%
LSHF Low sulphur heavy fuel 0.6% 70% - 85%
LSMD1 Low sulphur medium distillates 1 0.2% 60%
LSMD2 Low sulphur medium distillates 2 0.445% 91%
LSMD3 Low sulphur medium distillates 3 0.001% 99.8%

Site Entry Created by J A Kelly on Oct 20, 2010

Reference This Source (2019). European Sulphur Directives - Low sulphur fuel. Available: Last accessed: 24th April 2019

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