Explained: The problem with diesel

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BS norms

Mains level : Reality check on preparedness for BS VI and major hurdles


News

Context

  • The announcement by Maruti Suzuki —the country’s largest vehicle manufacturer — will stop manufacturing diesel vehicles.
  • This along with many other giants, pretty much marks the end of the road for the diesel mill in India.

Bone of content- BS VI Norms

  • The main reason is not the fuel price differential, but the new emission norms that will come into effect on April 1, 2020 — less than a year from now.
  • The prohibitively high cost of upgrading diesel engines to meet the new BS-VI emission norms is why leading carmakers have pulled the plug on their diesel options.
  • The economics of the conversion does not make it worthwhile to continue with the diesel option after the transition to BS-VI.
  • Also, the sentiment for diesel is not good in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, making it extra uncertain if customers would want to pay the big premium.

Bharat Stage Norms

  • The BS — Bharat Stage — emission standards are norms instituted by the government to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles.
  • India has been following European (Euro) emission norms, although with a time lag of five years.
  • India introduced emission norms first in 1991, and tightened them in 1996, when most vehicle manufacturers had to incorporate technology upgrades such as catalytic converters to cut exhaust emissions.
  • Fuel specifications based on environmental considerations were notified first in April 1996, to be implemented by 2000, and incorporated in BIS 2000 standards.

Implementation history

  • Following the landmark Supreme Court order of April 1999, the Centre notified BS-I (BIS 2000) and Bharat Stage-II norms, broadly equivalent to Euro I and Euro II respectively.
  • BS-II was for the National Capital Region and other metros; BS-I for the rest of India.
  • From April 2005, in line with the Auto Fuel Policy of 2003, BS-III and BS-II fuel quality norms came into existence for 13 major cities, and for the rest of the country respectively.
  • From April 2010, BS-IV and BS-III norms were put in place in 13 major cities and the rest of India respectively.

What changes do the recent BS norms entail?

  • As per the Policy roadmap, BS-V and BS-VI norms were to be implemented from April 1, 2022, and April 1, 2024 respectively.
  • But in November 2015, the Road Transport Ministry issued a draft notification advancing the implementation of BS-V norms for new four-wheel vehicle models to April 1, 2019, and for existing models to April 1, 2020.
  • Soon afterward, however, Road Transport Ministry announced that the government had decided to leapfrog to BS-VI from April 1, 2020, skipping BS-V all together.

Minutes of BS VI

  • Carmakers would have to put three pieces of equipment — a DPF (diesel particulate filter), an SCR (selective catalytic reduction) system, and an LNT (Lean NOx trap) — to meet stringent BS-VI norms, all at the same time.
  • This is vital to curb both PM (particulate matter) and NOx (nitrogen oxides) emissions as mandated under the BS-VI norms.
  • Ideally, the technologies should be introduced in series, and then synergized.

Why the transition is problematic?

  • A practical problem is that while it took as many as seven years for the entire country to shift from BS-III to BS-IV, the attempt this time is to entirely bypass one stage — BS-V — in less than half that time.
  • This makes the switch to BS-VI that much more difficult for both oil companies and automobile makers.
  • The decision to leapfrog directly from BS-IV to BS-VI is what carmakers cite as the reason for the unviability of diesel.
  • While petrol vehicles would also need upgrades to transition, these are limited to catalysts and electronic control upgrades.
  • For diesel vehicles, the upgrades are more complicated and entail higher costs, apart from the technical difficulties in managing the changes.
  • A step-by-step transition would have been easier; now, the entire cost will have to be borne in one go, alongside the operational difficulties of managing the transition.

Various complications

I. Early adaptation of components

  • Carmakers say there are technical constraints in carrying out design changes that will include adapting the three critical components — DPF, SCR and LNT — to conditions specific to Indian driving, where running speeds are much lower than in Europe or the United States.
  • The auto industry argues that the huge improvements in vehicular technology since 2000 have had little impact in India due to driving, road and ambient conditions.
  • So, technically, if the BS-V and BS-VI stages were to be implemented one after the other, diesel cars would have to be fitted with a DPF in the BS-V stage, and with the SCR in the BS-VI state.
  • Now both of these have to be incorporated simultaneously, alongside the LNT.

II. Fuel price gaps

  • Even if these were to be managed, a heavy cost would be involved, which would push up the price of diesel vehicles, and widen the price gap with the petrols.
  • So, for carmakers, skipping the diesel value chain at this point makes more sense.
  • Alongside these constraints, there are also question marks regarding the ability of the oil companies to manage the transition, because refiners were unable to produce the superior fuel in required quantities.
Air Pollution
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