According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) figures, Australian petrol is the worst of all 35 OECD countries. Aussie standards allow for 150 parts per million (ppm) of sulphur - the stuff that, once it hits the atmosphere, can form acid rain and also cause respiratory issues for anyone who likes breathing. It's been 15 years since we last revisited the standards in our fuel - it's time we took another look.
Producing fuel with 150ppm of sulphur makes it cheaper to produce petrol, thereby keeping prices down, although it's hard to tell what the benefit is given prices at the pump are nudging $1.50 at the moment. That's for 91RON fuels which are pegged at a maximum of 50ppm in other OECD countries. The more expensive 95RON and 98RON fuels, which allow for 50ppm, are dirtier than the equivalents in other countries which set the limits for those files at 10ppm according to a report at Wheels.
One solution cited by the Wheels article would be to make the dirtier 91RON fuel more expensive than the 95RON fuel, thereby creating a price trigger to entice drivers to use cleaner fuel - kind of a "polluter's tax".
It's also important to note that about three-quarters of our car imports come from Europe or European-designed vehicles that are made for fuels that are of a cleaner standard than our 91RON petrol.
As we continue to look for ways to do better than the previous generation when it comes to pumping crap into the atmosphere, it seems one thing we can do is use cleaner fuel. That's going to hurt the hip pocket - I fill my car with 98RON and regularly pay close to $0.20 per litre more than the cheapest fuel at the bowser - but I like the idea that my kids and grandkids might have a slightly better chance of being able to breathe the air they live in.
Of course, the entire discussion could become moot if we eventually abandon petrol-fuelled vehicles and move to electric vehicles. Then we'll only have the electricity generation business to fight with over emissions.