In Retrospect

Escaping today, rethinking tomorrow

Despite the pall of gloom around us, India has become the only country to leapfrog directly to Bharat Stage VI emissions standards

Amid the gloom and doom of the novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, there is also a reason for cheer and celebration across the country. India is now in the unparalleled rank of being the only country in the world to have sidestepped Bharat Stage V (BS V) emissions standards to leapfrog directly from BS-IV to BS-VI emissions standards.

All new vehicles to be sold from April 1, 2020, onwards will comply with the new standards, except the small window of relaxation granted by the Supreme Court under the current pandemic circumstances. The window allows the industry to sell only 10 per cent of their older BS-IV stock by May 31, 2020.

With this masterstroke, the Indian government not only overruled all objections but also reversed its roadmap of delaying the timeline to 2026.

The public health imperative of this move was well-established by the Supreme Court ruling of October 24, 2018, that had additionally denied any extra time for this transition. It upheld: "If there is a conflict between health and wealth health will have to be given precedence... The larger public interest has to outweigh the much smaller pecuniary interest of the industry."

Health benefit of this fuel and emissions standard roadmap as estimated by the International Council on Clean Transportation shows this can avoid 2,80,000 cumulative premature deaths in India by 2030. All Indians need to understand what this big leap is all about.

Massive cut in emissions

New-generation vehicles will now be significantly cleaner than the BS-IV vehicles. Particulate matter limit for different segments of diesel cars will be 82 to 93 per cent lower than the BS-IV level. Nitrogen oxide emissions limit will be 68 per cent lower.

Similarly, particulate limits for trucks and buses will be 50-67 per cent lower than the BS-IV level. Even though the inherent gap between limits for petrol and diesel car emissions will remain, the gap will narrow down substantially. Diesel norms are becoming so stringent and expensive to meet that reportedly over 40 cars and SUVs will be phased out from the market. Small diesel cars will be more widely hit.

Fuelling change

Even though the maximum emissions benefits come from the combined introduction of BS-VI fuels and vehicle technology, a drastic cut in fuel sulphur to 10 ppm will also reduce particulates and sulphur dioxide emissions (the harmful ingredient of smog and cause of sulphate particles) from all on-road vehicles to some extent.

Counting particle numbers vs only weighing the particle mass emissions: For testing of vehicles for certification, invisible tiny particles in the exhaust will be counted as opposed to the current practice of only weighing the mass of particles.

The most significant change will be in diesel emissions control systems. These include advanced particulate filters for particulate control; and lead NOx traps, selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and exhaust gas recirculation for NOx control.

As opposed to the current practice of only measuring mass emissions in the laboratory, vehicles will also be driven on roads fitted with portable emissions monitors to measure emissions in real-world conditions following a certain driving pattern.

Real emissions will be measured under the conditions of congested city roads, highways and rural roads. This aligns with the European practice to prevent Dieselgate and Volkswagen kind of scandals. Real-world testing has been introduced for certification now. From 2023 onwards, this test will also be carried out on selected samples after vehicles are sold.

Stringent standards

Requirements for two-wheelers are becoming almost as exacting as cars. For the first time, NOx and hydrocarbon emissions will be regulated separately, as opposed to their combined testing. Evaporative emissions standards already in place for four-wheelers will apply to two-wheelers as well to measure and control fuel vapours from engines. Onboard diagnostic systems to sense and police any malfunction in the vehicles will be introduced.

On-road performance checks

This is the most dramatic transition. Currently, there are no checks on mass emissions from vehicles after they are certified and sold. ut now, in-service regulations will require benchmarks for the performance of vehicles over their useful life on-road. For this, conformity factor will be introduced. Real-world emissions check on-road will happen post-2023.

The durability requirement of emissions control systems has been specified for a minimum distance range of 1,60,000 km, that is substantially higher than the current requirement. Specifications for the on-board diagnostic system that records details of vehicle performance are more stringent.

Post-2023 reforms

While India has aligned with most of the reform packages of Europe introduced to control dieselgate after the introduction of basic Euro VI in Europe in 2014, there are still some gaps. The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is amending technical regulations for the next package of reforms to be introduced from 2023 onwards. Some of these include deciding the confirmatory factor for in-service compliance, market surveillance and independent verification testing of in-use vehicles by regulatory authorities, adoption of a more stringent driving cycle for emissions testing (world not to exceed cycle), public disclosure of emissions data by the manufacturers on publicly accessible websites, and on-board fuel consumption meters among others.

Ground level preparedness

The BS-VI vehicle is a new animal in town. State transport departments need to upgrade on-road emissions surveillance. Even though Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificate norms — the only on-road emissions checking system currently — have been tightened for BS-VI vehicles, PUC is no longer relevant for diesel vehicles.

Only smoke density test is possible in diesel vehicles under PUC. But BS-VI diesel vehicles are not expected to have visible smoke.

Cities will need a checklist of physical checks of emissions control equipment fitted by the manufacturer to check if these are missing or tampered with. Like Kolkata and the pilot programme in Delhi, cities need to begin remote sensing measurements for high-level fleet screening. The transport ministry is amending the Central Motor Vehicles Rules to allow its implementation.

Making new generation NOx control systems work: Consumers should understand that big diesel vehicles will come fitted with semiconductor controlled rectifier in the exhaust system. This will require periodic filling of auto-grade urea tank as urea is sprayed on the exhaust to neutralise NOx.

At Rs 40/l for auto-grade urea, the refill will be needed after every 1,000 km in trucks depending on the pattern of usage. This will increase vulnerability to fraud and tampering, as global experience shows. People often try to disable these systems to avoid the recurring costs of refilling urea. This can lead to uncontrolled NOx emissions.

Ensuring quality control

Currently, oil companies are setting up autograde urea dispensing systems in their fuel retail outlets. Indian Oil Corporation and others have started the process. But there are private players as well. This has led to concerns regarding the quality control of the product. Even though there are product standards (AUS 32 Quality requirements according to ISO 22241-1), this needs a proper certification system for the sellers of urea.

People, especially bus and truck operators, need to understand the dangers of tampering with advanced and sophisticated emissions control systems. For instance, if they do not use quality urea, it will lead to deposit formation in urea supply and dosing system, block injector nozzles, cause catalyst poisoning leading to permanent damage, loss of warranty system, etc. Also, the replacement of any damaged emissions control system will cost a bomb. Need strong preventive maintenance.

This leapfrog builds confidence in clean air action.

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