The cleanest commercially available diesel fuel yet goes on sale in the US this week, which is likely to encourage a massive surge in diesel-powered vehicle sales.

The new fuel, limited to a sulphur content of no more than 15 parts per million, promises better air quality and aims to comply with a new US rule demanding a 97% reduction in sulphur content of diesel. Older diesel can have as much as 5000ppm.

The overall result is expected to be massive, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. It estimates that by 2030, when most current engines will have been replaced, 20,000 premature deaths, tens of thousands of illnesses and more than 7000 hospital visits will be prevented each year.

The US accounts for a massive proportion of the world's total vehicle emissions.

The next step to rectify this will be in January when new diesel truck engines will be required to have special filters to lower emissions further. There are currently 13 million diesel-powered heavy trucks in the US but only 3.6% of new car sales are diesel. Half of all European cars run on diesel. By 2015, however, it's believed diesel will make up 10% of vehicles sold in the US, pushing the global market share of diesel vehicles from 18% to 26%.