Researchers find markers that can spot fuel laundering

The varying price of diesel around the world has led to an epidemic of fuel laundering, but scientists in Poland think they have found a way to spot the illicit practice.

The illicit activity stems from variations in fuel duty in many countries, with a higher tax rate imposed on fuel for common transportation, and a lower rate for special designation fuels for example those used for agricultural use, heating or biofuels.

Fuel laundering is the term used to describe the illegal removal of marker dyes and chemicals from so-called red diesel (e.g. agricultural diesel) and kerosene to produce road diesel (DERV). In the EU, a dye called Solvent Yellow 124 is the obligatory marker, at least until 2021.

In addition to the loss of tax revenues that results from the scam, the process of removal often involves the use of strong acids and alkalis that can generate a lot of toxic waste and pose an environmental hazard.

Scientists from the University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland, have conducted an analysis of simulated counterfeit diesel to try to identify chemical ‘fingerprints’ that can reveal whether the fuel has been laundered using gas chromatography coupled with a nitrogen chemiluminescence detector.

They used two typical methods of fuel laundering to generate test counterfeit samples – using a reduction or an adsorption agent – and compared their composition to unadulterated fuel.

The researchers identified two chemicals – O-toluidine and 2,5-diaminotoluene – as potential markers of diesel oil counterfeiting by laundering through a reduction agent, with an accuracy rate of between 69.1 and 99.6 per cent.

They suggest that the study findings are “important pieces of information in the search for ways to combat…diesel oil fraud.”

Meanwhile, earlier this year in the UK, more than 80,000 litres of illicit petrol was seized in a series of raids. It is estimated that the total loss of duty associated with the illegal fuel was around £56,000 (around $70,400).

The operation was spearheaded by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and targeted four petrol stations in Leeds, Motherwell, Cowdenbeath and Hillington, and came shortly after another HMRC raid at a suspected laundering facility in Newry, Northern Ireland, that had the capacity to produce 10 million litres of fuel a year, equivalent to £6.5m in lost revenue.

In the past, fuel laundering has been linked to paramilitary groups operating on both sides of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The research is published in the journal Talanta.

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