Explained: Ban of BS-IV vehicles to raise air quality

Published: November 22, 2018 5:09:04 AM

In the whole brouhaha over fireworks, the Supreme Court’s order completely banning the sale and registration of Bharat Stage IV vehicles from April 1, 2020 has slipped under the public radar. 

Artificial rain in DelhiOne solution is to make particulate filters mandatory for the entire existing fleet of non-BS-VI vehicles.

By Jyoti Pande Lavakare

In the whole brouhaha over fireworks, the Supreme Court’s order completely banning the sale and registration of Bharat Stage IV vehicles from April 1, 2020 has slipped under the public radar.  Since the plan has always been to leapfrog from BS-IV to BS-VI emission norms, the assumption here is that all new vehicles sold from April 1, 2020 will have BS-VI compliant engines.

One of the best measures to improve air quality that this government took last year was to advance the introduction of BS VI (a version of Euro 6) standard fuel in Delhi from April 2018, two years earlier than originally scheduled, while ensuring that the cleaner fuel doesn’t cost more for users. By 2020, this cleaner BS-VI fuel is supposed to be available in the entire country, beginning with the Delhi suburbs of Haryana and UP from April 2019.

The Court order now mandates that, from 2020, even vehicle engines will comply with the better emission norms. This is good news for India’s air quality, because to derive optimal benefits of the cleaner BS-VI fuel, vehicle engines using this fuel must also be BS-VI-compliant. Making the cleaner fuel available to Delhizens from April 2018 without better engines was only half the job done, as the positive impact of the better fuel was (and continues to be) sub-optimal. Currently, the cleaner fuel, used by the same old cars with their non-BS-VI compatible engines, gives us less than half of the benefits it is capable of.

However, this is still an improvement. Air knows no geographic boundaries, and with pollution increasingly being recognised as a national as opposed to a Delhi-only problem, the only way to get optimal benefit is to have both the fuel and engine on the same stage emission norms all over the country. Using BS-VI fuel in BS-IV engines or, conversely, running BS-VI engines with BS-IV fuel are both sub-optimal strategies to curb vehicular pollution. The Court ruling has finally made optimal strategies achievable. So, now what?

The first challenge is pushback, likely from Indian automobile manufacturers, historically one of India’s strongest commercial lobbies. The Court’s amicus curiae has already opposed one such request by the government asking to extend the deadline to June 30, 2020, so that automobile makers can sell their BS-VI non-compliant four-wheelers. To ensure that the city and country gets a 100% benefit of the cleaner fuel it is essential that the government and courts make it abundantly clear to automakers that all new cars must have BS-VI compliant engines and that no extension of any deadlines will be entertained or permitted in this regard.

Actually, with the sort of lead time vehicle production needs, automakers should already have begun executing a plan to switch to BS-VI compliant cars rolling out of factories. Especially since the government has committed to leapfrogging over BS-V emission norms and making BS-VI fuel and engines gradually available to the whole country (much of which is still using even dirtier BS III grade fuel.) But, going by grassroots reportage, vehicle manufacturers don’t seem to be getting ready for upgraded engines.

As citizens, the one thing we can do is use our wallet power and boycott buying BS-IV and older cars, unless they have particulate filters retrofitted. Which brings me to the second challenge—of pricing. New cars with BS-VI engines will clearly be more expensive. At the same time, demand for cheaper cars is always higher, so the resale market for BS-IV and older cars will be more robust. But here again, the legislature, judiciary and executive must work together to ensure that the intangible cost of clean air is being embedded in the pricing of newer cars and the existing fleet, alike.

One solution is to make particulate filters mandatory for the entire existing fleet of non-BS-VI vehicles. Ideally, every vehicle on the road today should retrofit efficient particulate cutters to achieve the lowest emissions from fuel. But it costs to retrofit existing vehicles and users are unlikely to do this voluntarily, unless the law compels them do it.

So, while we wait for newer, cleaner-engine vehicles to populate our roads, we, the people, should push for a law that mandates retrofitting modern particulate cleaning technology in existing vehicles to reduce tailpipe emissions at source.

Such technologies are available. A simple “carbon cutter,” an indigenous solution, can be installed in tailpipes of all non-BS-VI vehicles. Carbon cutter filterless technology (unlike a diesel particulate filter, which “catches” particles and then burns them for removal in a regenerative process, thus not just consuming additional fuel, but also re-suspending them in the air) thickens microscopic PM2.5 particles to a denser form and collects this matter, which can be upcycled as ink or paint. The cost? Lower than a DPF, according to innovators who have created this “filterless” technology and are currently en-route to Poland as semi-finalists at Smogathon, a global competition for smog fighting technologies.

“Currently, the cost of a carbon-cutter is around Rs 20,000, but if manufactured at large-scale, it will reduce to around Rs 15,000,” says Irfan Pathan, pointing out that this is a one-time cost, whether it is a 4-wheeler, 6, 10 or 12-wheeler. Installation is easy and the machine can run up to 100,000 km, he said.

The author is an independent journalist, columnist and writer Co-founder, Care for Air

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