Zero Intellectuals

The nation that invented the zero is now confounded by one zero. EPCA meets all agencies in its search for alternatives. But instead of ultra low sulphur diesel, everyone wants current diesel to be termed clean fuel

Published: Sunday 30 September 2001

Zero Intellectuals

The Supreme Court had specifically asked Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (epca) to examine if "low sulphur diesel can be regarded as clean fuel" ... "as also to indicate as to which fuel can be regarded as a clean fuel, which does not cause pollution or is otherwise injurious to health." The court in its order explained, "it was submitted to us that in some other countries ultra low sulphur diesel which has sulphur content of not more than 0.001 per cent is now available." Is this an option available to us? The Bhure Lal committee was asked to examine. The directions were clear -- to look for environment-friendly alternatives to cng .

epca began work on this report in early April only to submit it, after seeking an extension from the court in late June. It received representations from over 15 different agencies -- from Union ministries, automobile companies, bus operators and research institutions -- and held detailed discussions. Those who did not come themselves were invited.

Pushing for diesel
But very soon it became clear that all the interested parties had only one thing to say: accept 500 ppm sulphur diesel as a clean fuel. Even public proponents of ultra low sulphur diesel like teri recommended in its written presentation to the authority that epca should accept 500 ppm sulphur diesel -- existing diesel in Delhi -- as clean fuel. No other alternative was even proposed (see table: Who wants what?).

But what evidence did these agencies have that 500 ppm diesel would clean up Delhi's air, asked epca . In its presentation, mpng claimed that using 500 ppm diesel "will reduce the particulate emissions by over 80 per cent as compared to earlier fuels" and this will clean up Delhi's air. When asked how they had calculated this, the official replied, "this is our guess." In perfect consonance, oil companies said, "we estimate as well that 500 ppm sulphur diesel combined with Euro II (Bharat II equivalent emission norms which will be introduced in Delhi from October 2001 for commercial vehicles) will reduce emissions by more than 80 per cent over current emission levels." mpng and oil industry were totally in line with each other.

epca then examined as to what kind of technology would be needed to bring down emissions. It must be noted that clean diesel per se does not lead to much emission reduction. But bringing down sulphur levels in diesel allows manufacturers to instal a device that traps particulates and thus brings emissions down. But the efficiency of the trap is dependent on the quantity of sulphur in diesel. The us , for instance, is mandating 15 ppm sulphur diesel for use with traps (see box: Zeroing in).

The submissions on this issue saw an interesting play. Strangely enough, only the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (siam) said that ulsd (10 ppm) allows the particulate trap to be fitted. It recommended that Euro II engine, when it runs on ultra low sulphur diesel (10 ppm) with electronic controls and aftertreatment devices including particulate traps, will be as good as a cng engine as far as particulate emissions are concerned.

All others claimed that the traps -- which they called by different names to mislead and confuse -- would work with higher sulphur content.

telco claimed the us multinational Engelhard's catalytic soot filter (csf) would work with 350 ppm sulphur diesel. But said that it would take two years for it to begin supply of buses fitted with csf filters as the treatment devices have to be tailored for specific engine application and for Indian operational conditions.

teri suggested also Englelhard's diesel oxidation catalyst (doc) which they claimed would work effectively with 500 ppm diesel.

When asked to produce test reports on these claims, the agencies waffled. Not surprisingly. A worldwide review of experiences done by the Right To Clean Air Campaign Team of cse found that almost all countries were experimenting with 10-50 ppm sulphur with these devices.

The most effective device is multinational Johnson Matthey's Continuously Regenerating Trap (crt) but it needs almost sulphurless diesel. The usepa was working with Engelhard's product, the Catalysed Diesel Particulate Filter, but had also specified that the "engine must be operated with a fuel that contains a sulphur content of no more than 15 ppm."

The petroleum ministry rejected outright any suggestion of bringing in 10 ppm sulphur diesel saying it was "limited in use to Sweden, Germany and Switzerland and that there were problems of trade, logistics and matching engine technology."

Out of gas or full of gas?
In its representation, mpng informed epca that they had estimated cng demand for 232,000 vehicles in Delhi by June 2002 including 10,000 buses, 150,000 light transport vehicles and 70,000 cars. The total requirement of these would be 12 times the present requirement and this would require major upgradation in the system including the Hazira-Bijaipur-Jagdishpur (hbj ) pipeline. This is for the first time that mpng talked of a shortfall in supply -- a month after the deadline set by the Supreme Court expired (see box: Contemptible laxity).

Besides, they added, " cng would be more expensive than petrol and diesel in the post Administrative Price Mechanism scenario scheduled to come into effect from April 1, 2002." The officials could not explain why this would happen given that the natural gas price is not within the ambit of the administrative price mechanism as it is not subsidised.

mpng claimed that, as per the Supreme Court order, they are supposed to meet the cng demand for buses only but not for autos and taxis which can be converted to clean fuels (read currently available petrol with one per cent benzene and 0.05 per cent sulphur diesel). This would clean the air, they said. Interestingly, when the mpng made its presentation to epca, it brought with it all the top officials of the oil industry. But not one official from the gas industry, which, being a public sector concern, also reports to the ministry. The interests of the public sector Gas Authority of India Limited (gail) had been set aside.

Only alternative: Accept status quo.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.