Fuelling a solution?



Adopting Bharat Stage VI fuel is not the environmental panacea as it is being marketed

The Government has been moving forward to limit vehicular emissions in the recent past. A few months ago, it brought forward the deadline for Indian automakers to shift towards Bharat Stage-VI emission norms by a couple of years to April 2020. This caught out Indian automakers, who also struggled with the Supreme Court decision to ban sales of older Bharat Stage III vehicles. And yesterday, it was announced that starting April 2018, all the fuel supplied in the capital will be of Bharat Stage VI, ostensibly as an attempt to reduce vehicular emissions. Unable to control stubble burning due to the lack of political will and Delhi’s unique weather patterns towards the end of the monsoon retreat, the Government is hoping that this move will help reduce pollutants in Delhi’s air. The air quality around the Capital, and the rest of India’s northern plains as well as across India’s borders, has been outright disgusting over the past few weeks with particulate levels over five times the baseline hazardous limit. Automakers, who were apprehensive that India’s petroleum refineries would not be able to provide Bharat Stage VI fuel, have welcomed the decision because it proves that at least India’s most modern refineries around the national capital have the ability to produce the fuel.

However, they privately admit that accelerating their timelines, to produce vehicles with engines that can best take advantage of the new fuel, will take some time. The biggest change in Bharat Stage VI fuel is not so much in petrol but for diesel as the amount of sulphur doping in the heavier liquid will come down by almost 10 times. The addition of sulphur in the fuel is needed by diesel engines to run smoothly, lubricating metal parts as well as helping the diesel become a mist that is then ignited with compression. While older Bharat Stage IV vehicles can run with the new fuel, although it is almost certain that there might be some issues later on, there will not be a major drop in emissions as a result. When Bharat Stage VI capable engines appear, the fuel will make a major difference to emissions both of noxious gases and particulate matter, but as those newer engines, particularly diesel engines are incapable of running on older sulphurous fuel, the benefits from the move will be minimal.

Instead, the oil ministry should have urgently addressed the major issue of fuel adulteration, again primarily of diesel with kerosene that is rampant in upcountry areas to this day. Doped diesel, used by truck drivers eager to cut costs, leads to exhausts belching black smoke laden with pollutants. This problem needs to be addressed urgently, and at the same time, State transport departments across the country should urgently increase vehicular pollution monitoring. There is no point of vehicles being low pollution at the time of manufacture if their catalytic converters are not replaced on time. And at the same time it has also emerged thanks to data released by US space agency NASA that India has become the world’s largest emitter of sulphurous gases into the atmosphere. Not through vehicles but thanks to the massive expansion of dirty coal-burning thermal power plants. The irony should not be lost on those in the Government planning for an all-electric future on the roads.

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