European oil refiners have worked closely with the automotive sector and have helped make the EU the world leader in fuel specifications and many clean-fuel and engine technologies, contributing to air quality improvements.

This partnership has phased out leaded gasoline in Europe, an achievement made possible by European refiners’ technological advances.

  • Refiners have reduced aromatics, olefins, benzene and PAH (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) in motor fuel, helping reduce pollutants in exhaust gases (see graph).
  • They have also eliminated sulphur from fuels, which is a precondition for catalytic convertors to operate effectively.

These reductions, whilst greatly contributing to better air quality in Europe, are expensive for refineries to carry out and should therefore be achieved in the most cost-effective ways possible in order to avoid that compliance investments displace investments for other improvement projects, such as technological upgrades or energy efficiency.

Catalytic convertors have helped limit the pollutants emitted by vehicles but they requires sulphur free fuels from refineries to operate effectively.

In their own production operations too, European refiners face some of the world’s most stringent rules on air quality (SO x, NO x and particulate matter emissions), water quality and soil protection. Continuous investments and improvements in EU refineries have halved the amount of sulphur they emit since 1998.


It is vital that refineries are permitted to achieve the agreed environmental objectives in the most cost-effective ways possible.

The refining industry has worked with EU, national and local authorities to make these improvements as cost-effectively as possible, although the investments needed have in many cases severely strained the refineries’ competitiveness. .Such non-discretionary or “stay-in-business’ investments bring no return to refineries and often compete for capital money with other improvements projects, such as upgrading or energy efficiency.

The quality of refinery effluents has also greatly improved, with oil discharge in water down to just a fraction of its level 30 years ago.