Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fuel Quality in Asia & Philippines Today

Preeti Jain

Continuing with the challenge for a balance towards policies and practices for achieving cleaner fuels in Asia, I do agree that for Asian context we cannot simply follow what developed countries are doing, but then at the same time we need to ascertain that there is no compromise on socio economic and environmental benefits. Asia with nearly ~60% of world population holds wide economic disparity among countries in the region and there is enormous burden especially on the developing countries to meet the growth targets in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner. In a wide array of factors responsible for affecting environment, fuel quality and emission norms are essentially important to manage air pollution. Looking at the chronology of fuel quality development in Asia, most of the countries in the region are on the march towards cleaner fuels; however still there is a key question; how to achieve a balance in policies, practices and their effective implementation in an economically efficient manner. There is indeed a strong correlation between fuel, vehicles, refineries producing them and financial framework to upgrade fuel quality. However, it is important that we first understand where we stand today, what are our unique strengths or weaknesses and how we can adapt with respect to the external environment. Taking a glance on cleaner fuels in Asian context first, for pollution abatement today the fuel quality regulation needs to be combined with vehicle emissions standards to frame the country specific roadmap.

Among Asian countries; Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong have taken a proactive role towards Euro 4 standards and beyond; followed by carefully planned action plan by India, China and Philippines to adopt Euro 4 standards nationwide. However, still there are many Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam that have only road maps for Euro 2, while countries including Bhutan and Cambodia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri-Lanka do not even have any formal fuel quality or vehicle emissions road maps in place. The planning and implementation for removal of lead from gasoline had been remarkable in the Asian subcontinent. However, when it comes to sulphur levels (Figure 1,2) [1] there is still a contrast in the approach in the region where countries like Japan switching to ultra low sulphur content and at the same time we have countries still struggling to move ahead and manage with Euro 2 fuel quality standards.

If we look at the quality specifications of Euro 2 & Euro 4 gasoline fuel; aromatics, sulphur and benzene are the main components that need to be capped. However, in case of diesel fuel, it’s more complex as sulphur reduction involves substantial investment for refining industry. Moreover, in new generation Euro 4 vehicles the use of high Sulphur fuel may poison the catalytic converter and thus the envisaged benefits from the vehicle technologies may not be attained. This discussion holds special importance in Asian context where diesel consumption for on-road vehicles is much more (50%) than ECD countries (34%) or even World total (37%). Moreover, the higher growth for diesel vehicles in these countries is attributed to the favorable tax incentives to diesel being commercial fuel used in trucks, transit buses and other transport as well.

Even in the case of Philippines, diesel is mainly used in public and transit vehicles including jeepneys, which is a problem as they emit higher levels of particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen due to less stringent fuel quality and vehicle technology lack particulate and NOx traps. Though for diesel fuel Cetane number, density, distillation characteristics and PAH content are important but to enable functioning of emission control devices (ECDs) fitted in the diesel vehicles sulphur content of the fuel is the most important parameter. The sulphur level which is currently 500 ppm for Euro II in Philippines need to be reduced to 50 ppm for Euro 4 to maximize the benefits of vehicle technology for reducing the emissions and attain ambient air quality benefits.

To meet Euro 4 target there are certainly technological and financial hurdles, as fuel quality and vehicles technology is not just domain of one industry rather it’s a business preposition of different stakeholders. Whenever we talk about cleaning up vehicles in developing countries, we need to consider and understand role of various technologies and requirement of fuel quality to achieve the end motive of cleaner environment. Besides, cleaner fuels will have a better impact with both new and old generation of vehicles to reduce emissions. There is indeed a price for the incremental costs, estimates show that for meeting fuel sulfur in Asia would cost 0.2-0.8 US cents/L for gasoline and 0.5 – 0.8 US cents/L for diesel, with additional 0.6 cents/L for further reductions to 10 ppm or below for diesel fuel [2]. However, going back to the rationale of cleaner fuels for better environment and public health, there is a time to plan and act now. The path to reach cleaner fuels may be complex but at the end of day if we see the long term benefits; there is certainly a call to keep the marathon on towards achieving cleaner fuels…because it is ultimately us who has to take the decision….

"We generate our own environment. We get exactly what we deserve. How can we resent a life we've created ourselves? Who's to blame, who's to credit but us? Who can change it, anytime we wish, but us?" - Richard Bach

1. International Fuel Quality Centre,

2. A Roadmap for Cleaner Fuels and Vehicles in Asia; 2007 Asian Development Bank and Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities Center Inc.

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