Mozambique hopes to reduce the level of sulphur in the diesel it uses from the current 500 parts per million (PPM) to just 50 ppm by 2020.

The matter was discussed at a two-day regional seminar in Maputo which ended Tuesday under the theme “Promotion of low levels of sulphur in fuels in Mozambique and the neighbouring countries”, attended by participants from public institutions and fuel companies from around the region.

The meeting, jointly organized by Mozambique’s Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was aimed at harmonising fuel specifications thereby reducing high levels of sulphur in fuels, notably diesel, used in member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Sulphur oxides from vehicle exhausts are a major component of air pollution. High levels of sulphur dioxide can cause respiratory illnesses, and are particularly dangerous to children, the elderly and people suffering from asthma.

The National Director of Hydrocarbons and Fuels, Moises Paulino, said the governments of SADC countries planned to implement a programme to reduce the level of sulphur in fuel. This is becoming inevitable, given that fuel producers are gradually phasing out diesel with sulphur at 500 ppm levels.

“Major refineries will soon stop producing diesel at 500 ppm of sulphur. They will supply the market only with diesel at 50 or even 10 ppm of sulphur,” he added. Such measures are regarded as necessary to protect public health and preserve the environment.

Given its geographical position, Mozambique contains facilities such as fuel terminals and pipelines essential for supplying landlocked members of SADC.

“We are preparing to guarantee that any vehicle entering the country can function normally,” said Paulino, who added that the country had experience in smooth fuel transitions, as happened in 2005 when the country ceased to use leaded petrol and only imported unleaded fuel.

The countries represented at the seminar want to guarantee that in the next two to five years all existing facilities are prepared to receive diesel with sulphur levels no higher than 50 ppm.

According to the UNEP, six African countries have already switched to diesel with 50 ppm of sulphur, namely Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Tunisia. Morocco is now using diesel with only 10 ppm of sulphur.