A Bigger Plan for Bharat IV

In a recent Times of India article, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) said what we’ve been saying all along: that Bharat IV standards should be implemented nationwide, and a roadmap to reach Euro VI standards should be drawn up as soon as possible. This policy would not only go a long way in improving air quality in India, it would also ease the burden on automakers, who currently have to produce two different sets of vehicles for sale in the country – one set for a few scattered cities at the Bharat IV emission level, and another for the rest of the country, which remains at Bharat III. But can it be done feasibly?

It’s not that the government or the oil industry aren’t taking steps in the right direction. Public sector refineries are planning to invest more than Rs. 1.5 lakh crore ($30 billion) over the next five years to upgrade themselves, much of which will enable them to produce the low sulfur fuel needed for Bharat IV emissions standards and beyond. The expansion of Bharat IV fuel supply – gasoline and diesel with no more than 50 ppm sulfur content – is set to reach 63 cities by 2015, up from roughly 20 today.

Still, expansion on a city-by-city basis has a number of problems. First, the cities selected for Bharat IV expansion are not necessarily the ones who need it most – they may not be the most polluted, nor have particularly high human or vehicle populations. Second, many vehicles from Bharat IV cities, especially heavy-duty trucks, refuel in other areas, essentially negating the benefits of Bharat IV vehicles. Third, new cities are assigned Bharat IV fuel a few at a time, without much prior notice. This makes it difficult for automakers to reorganize their distribution systems, which are often regionally planned, to accommodate for a change in a city or two. Fourth, even if all 63 cities successfully implemented Bharat IV standards, they would account for only about half of India’s new vehicle sales. The remainder would continue to emit at least twice as much particulate matter (PM) and one-third more oxides of nitrogen (NOx) as their Bharat IV counterparts.

A better way to expand Bharat IV standards would be to think bigger. Instead of going city-by-city, a focus on state-wise or regional implementation of Bharat IV standards would have a number of advantages. An important one is that heavy-duty trucks in India often have a state only permit, which would allow for a number of Bharat IV trucks to be sold and operate on Bharat IV fuel at all times. And logistically, It would be much easier for automakers to distribute Bharat IV vehicles across an entire state than to isolated cities.

To better understand how a bigger, state-wise expansion of Bharat IV standards could take place, let’s look at this map.*

The map above shows the states of India, a list of cities identified by India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) as being out of attainment of national PM and NOx standards, and the location of Indian refineries. Click on a state, a city, or a refinery, to get more information about each one.

One possible action in the near-term is to mandate Bharat IV fuel and vehicle emission standards across Gujarat and Maharashtra at the start of 2013. Both these states have a number of refineries, with a combined production capacity of over two million barrels per day oil, which would allow for good fuel supply. One of those refineries, a Reliance Industries one in Jamnagar, Gujarat, is the largest refinery in the world and has the capability to produce Bharat V fuel. Gujarat and Maharashtra also have the highest number of registered vehicles in India. And they both have more cities on the CPCB list than any other state except Uttar Pradesh.

Gujarat, in particular, has been in the news as of late when it comes to vehicle emissions control. A recent Gujarat high court decision ordered that all vehicles in the state should be converted to run on CNG within the next year. This sets the stage to move to more stringent emission standards, which the high court directed the state government to do within two months.

It helps that Gujarat and Maharashtra are relatively rich states, meaning there could be more support for Bharat IV standards from state governments and consumers there. If successful, they could both serve as models for regional implementation of new standards in other areas.

Ultimately, implementing Bharat IV a few states at a time is step towards the goal of mandating Bharat IV standards nationwide by 2014. Having one regulation in the whole country would not only have the advantages already mentioned, it would ensure that the union government does not discriminate against Indians in one region over another. It would also set the stage to move beyond Bharat IV so Indian vehicles and fuels can be as clean as the world’s best.

*Thanks to Alexander Wood-Thomas for creating it.

Clean air Fuels