Why Indian automobile industry needs to walk extra to clean up toxic emissions

By jumping from BSIV to BSVI,  India's not allowing vehicle manufacturers extra time to sell the stock of unsold BSIV vehicles

By Anumita Roychowdhury
Published: Monday 26 November 2018
Clean fuel reduces engine wear and corrosion. Credit: Getty Images

The pace of India’s emissions standard roadmap for cleaner vehicles and fuels has quickened. The country has already drawn accolade for skipping the stage V emissions standards to leapfrog from Bharat Stage IV (BSIV) to Bharat Stage VI (BSVI) in 2020—advancing by five years from the original proposal. But two new developments this year make this trajectory even more unique. One, BSVI fuel has been introduced in Delhi in advance to battle its deadly smog, and, two, the automobile industry has not been allowed extra time to phase-in or to sell unsold older BSIV vehicles after BSVI kicks in on April 1, 2020. India, a rapidly motorising economy, facing a big technology lag, has finally chosen disruptive strategies.
Though this change was resisted by the auto industry, public health interest has prevailed. The spirit and principle behind the decisions is clear from the Supreme Court ruling of October 24: “Even a day’s delay in enforcing BSVI norms is going to harm the health of the people that cannot be compensated in the marginal extra profits that the manufacturers might make.” The ruling is categorical: “If there is a conflict between health and wealth, obviously, health will have to be given precedence… The larger public interest has to outweigh the much smaller pecuniary interest of the industry.” These developments, however, have aroused a certain curiosity about the benefits of these early moves.

Fuelling change with clean fuels
How will Delhi gain from the early introduction of BSVI fuels without BSVI vehicles? Even though the maximum emissions benefits are expected from combined introduction of BSVI fuels and vehicles, the on-road vehicles will also gain from clean fuels. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), particulate matter increases linearly with sulphur content of the fuel. Drastic reduction in fuel sulphur to 10 ppm can reduce particulate emissions from the on-road fleet. High fuel sulphur increases sulphur dioxide emissions—a harmful ingredient of smog, that also forms sulphate particles. In the oxygen-rich diesel exhaust, sulphur dioxide can oxidise to form hazardous sulphate particles and ultra-fine particles.
Clean fuel improves the performance of the emissions control system and cuts emissions from on-road vehicles. Petrol vehicles also benefit as low sulphur improves efficiency of catalysts. USEPA estimates show that if petrol sulphur drops from 30 ppm to 10 ppm, NOx and carbon monoxide emissions from on-road vehicles can reduce by 8 per cent each and volatile organic compounds by 3 per cent. Clean fuel will also reduce engine wear and corrosion.
BSVI fuel opens up the opportunity to retrofit existing vehicles with advanced emissions control systems and early introduction of BSVI vehicles in Delhi. Many companies are ready with BSVI models, but these vehicles must not be “misfuelled” with sulphur-rich fuels. Their systems, once affected, can recover to some extent if the use of near-zero sulphur fuels is restored, but recovery takes time due to sulphate storage on the catalyst. To ensure steady and expanded uptake of BSVI fuel and to prevent “misfuelling”, the price of BSVI fuels in Delhi must remain lower than the price of BSVI fuels in the National Capital Region.

Impact of leapfrogging
The big change is awaited with the introduction of BSVI vehicles in 2020. This is a critical step, given the risk of dieselisation in India. The gap between emission limits for petrol and diesel cars will narrow substantially. Particulate limit for different segments of diesel cars will be 82-93 per cent lower than the BSIV level. NOx emissions limit will be 68 per cent lower. Similarly, particulate limits for heavy duty vehicles will be 50-67 per cent lower than BSVI level. For the first time India will introduce particle number count in exhaust emissions to ensure that auto companies use the most effective diesel particulate filter, which can have over 95 per cent efficiency in controlling particulate matter with 10 ppm sulphur fuel.
To make these technologies work during the life of the vehicle and to prevent emissions frauds like the Volkswagen scandal and dieselgate in Europe (see ‘Faux Wagon’, Down To Earth, 15-31 October 2015), India has adopted real world driving emissions testing using portable emissions measurement system (PEMS) for vehicle certification. But its actual application for certification has been delayed for both light duty and heavy duty vehicles till 2023. Until then only data will be collected. One of the reasons why heavy duty vehicles in Europe could avoid dieselgate debacle (unlike the cars) is because of early adoption of both real world PEMS testing and in-service conformity requirement (testing of emissions in real world when vehicles are in use). India will have to go one step further to introduce these systems and make the results public for scrutiny and compliance.
BSVI regulations have also improved other technical parameters needed to improve overall on-road emissions performance. For instance, specifications for on-board diagnostic system that records details of vehicle performance for monitoring are more stringent. The durability requirement of emissions control systems has been specified for a minimum distance range as 160,000 km, which is much higher than the current requirement.
Clearly the Indian automobile industry will have to walk the extra mile, like China has, to clean up toxic emissions. China has even bettered the Euro VI standards by adding tougher requirements than Europe. The mantra of the BSVI regulations has to be stringent compliance . Only this can make a real difference.

(This article was first published in the 16-31st October issue of Down To Earth under the headline 'Drive the extra mile'.)

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