Nearly 750,000 vehicles will start using unleaded petrol today, marking a new era in preserving the environment and ensuring clean air for future generations.

Over 500 service stations have converted the pumps and stored millions of gallons of unleaded fuel in the largest ever transformation in the country's fuel industry. The operation went smoothly in different parts of the country and leaded petrol was phased out overnight.

In spite of the special efforts by the federal government to reduce the price of the main grade of unleaded gasoline to Dh4 per gallon, experts believe that motorists will feel the crunch in an increased fuel bill they have to pay in order to preserve the environment.

The Federal Government has mandated two grades of unleaded gasoline -Special (Khosousi), Green 95 Octane at Dh4 per gallon and Super (Mumtaz), and Blue 98 Octane at Dh5 per gallon.

The 90-Octane leaded gasoline branded as "Special", which was sold till last night at Dh3.75 per gallon, will be sold today at Dh4. The quality of unleaded Special gasoline was also improved to meet the requirement of the majority of cars running on the road by increasing the octane number to 95.

But drivers will have to pay nearly seven per cent more than they paid a day before.

The Super quality leaded petrol of 97 octane, which was sold at Dh4 until yesterday, is no longer red, and has turned blue with an improved octane 98 offered at Dh5 a gallon, representing 25 per cent hike in the price.

Mechanics and engineers interviewed by Gulf News said that there are other hidden extra cost in using unleaded petrol.

For instance, they said engines consume 10 to 15 per cent more unleaded petrol, compared to leaded petrol. It means motorists will have to pay 18 to 36 per cent more.

"The price of converting to green fuel will be felt by low and middle income people," one engineer explained.

He said most drivers will opt to buy special gasoline for Dh4 in an attempt to avoid paying more, but will gradually switch to super gasoline to get better performance.

They said a simple calculation of the additional cost the UAE motorist will have to bear shows that the cost of coversion to unleaded petrol will be around Dh1 billion to Dh1.2 billion per annum. (750,000 cars X 3 gallon/per day (Average daily consumption) X Dh 1.5 extra cost of Super unleaded petrol per gallon X 365 days).

A source from the Public Awareness Committee for the Introduction of Unleaded Gasoline, admitted that there will be a marginal increase in fuel consumption as the country converts to green fuel, but the long term advantage of the new product will make up for the extra costs.

He said the use of unleaded petrol will extend engine-life and reduce the health bill.

He said removing lead from gasoline offers significant health benefits as it facilitates the use of built-in high-tech emission control devices available in cars imported to the UAE.

"The Federal Government has ordered all dealers to stop the imports of cars without catalytic convertors. Most of the vehicles in country are now equipped with the convertors and by January 2007, cars without the convertors will not be registered by the traffic departments in the country," he said.

The conversion to unleaded petrol is an international trend based mainly on health aspects.

"It has been found that vehicle exhaust emissions containing lead and other pollutants pose a threat to human health as it has long-term harmful effects on the environment," he said.