Cape Town - The government hopes to have cleaner fuels made available to the public as soon as 2013, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said on Tuesday.
Briefing the media at parliament on the Clean Fuels Two (CF2) draft fuel specifications and standards, she said full introduction was expected by 2017.
CF2 is the equivalent of the current European Five fuel specifications (Euro V).
Peters said the modernisation of South Africa's liquid fuels was a continuation of the process that in 2006 resulted in a ban on lead in all grades of petrol, and the reduction of sulphur levels in diesel from 3 000 to 500 parts per million.
Among others, allowable levels of benzene - a known carcinogen - would be reduced from 5% to 1% and sulphur from 500 to 10 parts per million.
The new specifications are underpinned by three imperatives - the need to contribute to public health, environmental concerns, and the need to enable more advanced combustion engines on South African roads.
The low sulphur levels would allow for the introduction of more efficient engines with less carbon dioxide emissions.
"As responsible citizens of the world, we cannot continue using fuels that result in more greenhouse gas emissions than those partners with whom we trade," she said.
The SA Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) welcomed the release of draft fuel specifications and standards.
"The industry is going to play an active role in finalising future fuel specifications and standards for South Africa," it said.
The ultimate goal of any country or region's cleaner fuels program should be to reduce harmful exhaust emissions and thus contribute to an improvement in urban air quality as well as to reduce the release of greenhouse gasses.
A holistic and integrated approach was required to achieve this.
This required a combination of improved vehicle technology, provision of cleaner fuels to enable this technology and a number of other interventions, such as the introduction of vehicle inspection and maintenance programs, and traffic management schemes.
Sapia members had over a period of two years undertaken reviews of international experiences in this field and commissioned independent studies to provide background information needed to determine the future fuel specifications that would best contribute to the desired end-goal of improved air quality and be best suited to South Africa's specific local conditions.
These specific conditions included a large older vehicle population, differing geographic conditions (including a wide range of altitudes), synthetic fuels being a major part of the fuel mix, and the socio-economic climate in the country.
This information will be used to inform Sapia's comments on the discussion document.
"A speedy process is encouraged so that regulatory certainty can be obtained without further delay to enable the very substantial investments that will need to be made by the oil companies."
The cost implications to the industry, motorists and the country also needed to be thoroughly reviewed.
"Sapia looks forward to the finalisation of the fuel specifications and standards which will represent the best interests of the country as a whole."