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CLEANER DIESEL - Oil refinery boss says upgraded fuel in next 12 months

Published:Sunday | July 31, 2011 | 7:00 AM

Brian Bonitto, Special Assignment Editor

Winston Watson, managing director of Jamaica's sole refinery - Petrojam - said local consumers could be receiving a higher-quality diesel fuel within the next 12 months.

Watson, who was guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Downtown Kingston's weekly meeting at The Wyndham Kingston Hotel last Wednesday, was fielding questions from his audience.

"We're looking to develop a low-sulphur fuel into the market in the next 12 months or so," Watson said. "For the last several years, we have been working with the government on a refinery upgrade programme that will allow us to introduce the fuel to Jamaica."

The refinery boss said the design work has been completed. However, the revamping of the infrastructure to accommodate a hydro-treatment and sulphur plant was still under way.

According to Watson, the demand for low-sulphur fuel is a result of the high influx of imported automobiles that require it.

"Since we built the Petrojam plant, the components of diesel haven't changed. What have changed are the vehicle population and the type of engines they carry," said Watson.

The Petrojam managing director said in former years car companies would seek his organisation's advice on fuel content before importing any automobile. But that approach has changed.

"What is happening now is that car dealers are importing vehicles, but they do not tell us about their fuel-type capacity," he said.

Trevor Heaven, president of the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association (JGRA), has welcomed the proposed move by Petrojam and offers some advice on the implementation.

"They (the government) should take the bull by the horn and do it in one shot," Heaven told Automotives. "It would be a total waste of time to have to install different tanks and pumps for this low-sulphur fuel."

The JGRA president said most vehicles manufactured and imported over the last five years are unable to use the high-sulphur diesel.

"In addition, the Government has imposed a restriction on the age of vehicles coming into the island. So my recommendation is for the island to transition immediately."

The quality of fuel on the local market has been a burning issue for importers of both new and used vehicles.

Sigh of relief

In a previous interview with Automotives, Lynvalle Hamilton, president of the Jamaica Used Car Dealers Association (JUCDA), said his organisation would be able to breathe a sigh of relief if cleaner diesel fuel was available.

"I know a number of members [of JUCDA] who have imported vehicles and the diesel fuel currently available has damaged their engines," Hamilton was quoted as saying.

"Cleaner diesel fuel would, therefore, allow the used-car dealers to import a wider range of vehicles and that would be beneficial to our industry," Hamilton continued.

Adam Stewart, deputy chairman of ATL Automotive - dealers of Audi, Land Rover, Honda and Volkswagen - highlighted the benefits of using cleaner fuel at the opening of ATL's Automotives Limited in Bogue City Centre in Montego Bay last December.

"This is not about money. This is not about debt, it is about the environment," said Stewart. "Clean fuel is the beginning [of the process]," he continued.

Stewart said new-car dealers were hampered in the importation of motor vehicles with the latest technology due to what he described as the poor quality of fuel available on the island.

"You cannot go to Europe and buy [vehicles with] the latest technology. They would not operate efficiently in Jamaica," he said.

The diesel fuel now available locally is high in sulphur, possessing 5,000 parts per million (ppm) compared to the 10 ppm to 15 ppm as obtains in First World countries.

"In the interim, we have to change our oil more frequently and service our vehicles on time," Watson added.

Petrojam was established in 1982 when the Jamaican government bought the Esso Kingston Refinery, which had been built and operated by Esso since March 1964. In 2006, the government sold 49 per cent of its shares to PDVCaribe, a subsidary of a subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela.

brian.bonitto@gleanerjm.com