United States
Environmental Protection
Transportation and Air Quality EPA420-F-00-036
Transportation and Regional	March 2002
Programs Division	www.epa.gov
For the past 50 years,
Fischer-Tropsch fuels have
powered all of South
Africa's vehicles—from
buses to trucks to taxicabs.
The fuel is primarily sup-
plied by Sasol, a world
leader in Fischer-Tropsch
Sasol's South African
facility produces more than
150,000 barrels of high-
quality fuel from domestic
low-grade coal daily The
popular fuel is cost-com-
petitive with crude oil-
based petroleum products
in South Africa. During the
next several years, experts
predict use of Fischer-Trop-
sch fuels will grow as a
high-end blend stock in
For more information on
the use of Fischer-Tropsch
fuels in South Africa, visit
Clean Alternative
Fuels:	"rjrj
One in a series of fact sheets
The majority of heavy-duty vehicles on our nation's highways today
are powered by diesel fuel. This presents enormous opportunities
for clean-burning diesel substitutes such as Fischer-Tropsch liquids.
Although they have been used to some degree since the 1920s, Fischer-Trop-
sch fuels are not widely used today—but this could change.
From Africa to South America, extensive
research and development efforts are
under way to commercialize the fuels for
vehicle use. More auto manufacturers are
viewing Fischer-Tropsch liquids as a viable
way to use alternative fuels in diesel
engines without compromising fuel effi-
ciency or impacting infrastructure or refu-
eling costs.
Fischer-Tropsch technology converts
coal, natural gas, and low-value refinery
products into a high-value, clean-burning
fuel. The resultant fuel is colorless, odor-
less, and low in toxicity. In addition, it is
virtually interchangeable with convention-
al diesel fuels and can be blended with
diesel at any ratio with little to no modifi-
cation. Fischer-Tropsch fuels offer impor-
tant emissions benefits compared with
diesel, reducing nitrogen oxide, carbon
monoxide, and particulate matter.
Currently, several oil companies are
researching large-scale production of Fis-
cher-Tropsch fuels. At least four major
companies have announced plans to build
pilot plants to produce synthetically
derived Fischer-Tropsch diesel fuels.
Plants are currently planned for Indonesia,
Africa, South America, and the United
In addition, while many alternative
fuels require completely separate distribu-
tion systems, Fischer-Tropsch fuels can use
the existing fuel distribution infrastruc-
ture. This means the fuels can be trans-
ported in the same ships and pipelines as
crude oil. A limited investment will be
Actual emissions will vary with
engine design; these numbers reflect
the potential reductions offered by
Fischer-Tropsch liquids, relative to
conventional diesel.
•	Nitrogen oxide reductions due to
the higher cetane number and even
further reductions with the addi-
tion of catalysts.
•	Little to no particulate emissions
due to low sulfur and aromatic con-
•	Expected reductions in hydrocarbon
and carbon monoxide emissions.
•	Estimates based on Fischer-Tropch's inherent-
ly "cleaner" chemical properties with an engine
that takes full advantage of these fuel proper-

required, however, to maintain the
fuel's purity during distribution.
According to the California Energy
Commission, Fischer-Tropsch fuels'
superior quality, cost, and ease of dis-
tribution could lead to production of
2	to 3 million barrels per day, or 2 to
3	percent of worldwide refinery out-
put, by 2005.
According to the California Energy
Commission, Fischer-Tropsch fuels
can cost up to 10 percent more than
conventional diesel, depending on
market fluctuations.
Based on available research, there are
no significant differences in Fischer-
Tropsch fuels' performance versus
petrodiesel fuels. In fact, the higher
cetane number of Fischer-Tropsch
diesel fuel might result in improved
combustion; the cetane number is a
primary measure of diesel fuel quali-
ty. In addition, many alternative fuels
require major changes in vehicle
engines, but Fischer-Tropsch fuels
require no engine modifications.
Fischer-Tropsch fuels, however, are
slightly less energy dense than
petrodiesel, which might result in
lower fuel economy and power. Fur-
ther investigations of fuel compatibil-
ity issues need to take place, as well.
There are no reported safety issues
with Fischer-Tropsch fuels. They can
boost safety by using excess gas from
oil production, thereby avoiding its
disposal. Ingestion, absorption
through skin, or other exposure
effects are likely to be similar to that
of diesel fuel.
For More Information
EPA Alternative Fuels Web Site
California Energy Commission
Web site: www.energy.ca.gov/
Alternative Fuels Data Center
Web site: www.afdc.nrel.gov
National Alternative Fuels
Phone: 800 423-1 DOE
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