Filtering out harmful gases: What measures India is taking to clean cities!

As India’s struggle for cleaner air continues, newer solutions emerge.

February 22, 2020 10:28 AM

By Ameya Joshi

People are deeply concerned about something hidden in plain sight: the poor quality of air. The concern is justified—in a 2018 report, the WHO mentioned that 93% of the world’s children under the age of 15 are exposed to air laden with fine particulates exceeding the recommended air quality guidelines. These fine particulates—also known as PM2.5—are invisible to naked eye, but once inhaled can cause “greater risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life.” Also, when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children.

India has been taking bold measures to clean up its cities. In 2018, 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities were in India, with Delhi ranked the world’s most polluted capital. While the sources of high particulate pollution are many—dust, cooking, crop burning and vehicles, to name a few—it is India’s burgeoning affluent middle-class and its increasing desire for cars that has the government taking strong measures to limit vehicular tailpipe emissions.

A major step was the decision to skip one level of regulation and move directly from Bharat Stage (BS) 6 norms, from BS4, which are equivalent to the respective European versions. These regulations are some of the tightest in the world, requiring deep reductions in tailpipe emissions of harmful gases (carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides). Moreover, particulate emissions are more tightly controlled through the introduction of a particle number (PN) limit, which allows no more than 600 billion particles to be emitted per driven kilometre. Also introduced are new ways of testing vehicles through the “real-world driving emission” tests, also known as RDE, ensuring cleaner exhaust during everyday driving.

Emission norms are not new, not even in India. Engine and exhaust after-treatment systems have been developed for several decades now, and are very efficient. However, the technologies continue to evolve, and implementation of BS6 will ensure that these latest technologies are adopted on new vehicles sold in India. One technology worth highlighting is the wide adoption of direct-injection systems in petrol vehicles. Compared to the traditional port-fuel injection, the ability to control the amount and timing of fuel injection in the cylinders improves combustion and ultimately the vehicle’s fuel consumption. An undesired effect of the fuel impinging against the cylinder walls, however, is the increased production of particulates, which are emitted into the air if untreated by emission-control systems.

Gasoline particulate filters (GPFs) have been developed specifically to address this problem in petrol systems. As the exhaust flows through the filter, particulates are trapped on the wall surface allowing the cleaned exhaust to exit the filter. The performance of these filters only improves with time: with some ash collected on the filter walls, they capture over 90% of soot particles, preventing them from escaping the tailpipe and polluting the atmosphere. The system is designed by the automaker to periodically clean or “regenerate” the filter by burning off built-up soot, so that the filter doesn’t need to be replaced or serviced.

Filters have been proven as a highly effective technology as they have been successfully deployed on diesel vehicles for several years in other parts of the world. In fact, Corning’s GPFs are already deployed on millions of vehicles in Europe and China. We look forward to introducing these innovative and proven technologies to the Indian market—and helping India affordably and effectively reduce tailpipe particulate emissions.

(The author is director of Emerging Technologies and Regulations, Corning Inc)

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