China Clean Diesel Study Tour

From November 27 to December 7, 2018, the ICCT co-organized and facilitated a training tour for the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) on clean diesel actions in California and United States. The delegation was led by Deputy Director General WU of MEE’s Atmospheric Environmental Management Department and included regulators from various divisions of the Ministry. The training, focused on clean diesel policies and programs in California (hosted and provided by the California Air Resources Board); clean vessels and green ports (hosted by the Region 9 office of the U.S. EPA); and lifecycle emission assessments of vehicle technologies (hosted by the Argonne National Laboratory). In addition, the ICCT had in-depth exchanges with the delegation on real-world emission measurements, vehicle in-use surveillance, China’s domestic emission control area, and a potential future international ECA for ocean-going vessels.

Diesel vehicles and engines are a significant source of air pollution in China. Onroad diesel vehicles are only about 14% of the total motor vehicle population but emit 65% of CO2, 70% of NOx, and over 90% of PM (primary) emissions. In many Chinese megacities, onroad vehicle emissions contribute 10%–50% of local air pollution. Domestic and international ships and diesel-powered off-road equipment are also important sources of diesel-related emissions. Increased evidence and awareness of diesel-related emissions has made the Chinese central government determined to prioritize “a battle against diesel emissions” in its three-year National Plan of Blue-Sky Defense. This is China’s most significant clean air campaign to date. It is led directly by the Chinese State Council and entails action by most central ministries. Despite the ambitions, poor diesel fuel quality and lack of experience in vehicle emission in-use compliance have proved to be obstacles.

This study tour was part of the Chinese government’s efforts to build capacity for implementing the three-year plan, as well as to prepare for introducing the next round of tougher standards and policies against diesel emissions in the longer-term.

California historically suffered from severe smog pollution caused primarily by mobile sources. Over decades, the state developed a number of regulations, programs, and incentives to drive down diesel emissions. California clearly offers rich lessons for China in this area. Earlier this year, the California government and the Chinese MEE renewed their strategic MoU, and mobile source emission control continued to be a focus of bilateral collaboration. The training tour was a concrete deliverable of that collaboration.

MEE delegation and CARB staff in front of CARB.

During the training, California Air Resource Board staff generously shared their experience with comprehensive suites of actions to clean up California’s diesel fleets. The wide range of topics covered included the state’s long-established new and in-use diesel vehicle/engine standards and programs; the latest considerations to further tighten these standards; new techniques in enhancing in-use emission surveillance; emerging zero emission truck technologies and requirements; and measures for off-road equipment, ships, and diesel fuel quality assurance. Director Wu, the deputy director general of MEE’s Air Environmental Management Department, who led the delegation, said that “the strong focus on and effective measures to assure diesel fuel quality from upstream supply chain, and having a wholly government-operated emission lab for regulatory compliance purposes, are extremely inspiring in the Chinese context.” China introduced its first domestic emission control area for marine vessels in 2015 and is now looking into upgrading this policy by tightening fuel sulfur limits, expanding the control areas, and promoting clean technologies on vessels and on the shore. The green port portion of the study tour took the form of participation in the 5th U.S.–China Green Ports and Vessels Initiative Workshop, hosted jointly by U.S. EPA and MEE, and the Clean Vessel Retrofit Technology Forum, hosted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). The delegation was introduced to the latest emission-reduction technologies and emission measurement tools for shipping vessels, and made site visits to shore-power infrastructure, bunkering vapor recovery systems, and a PEMS testing setup onboard a vessel.

Left: Director WU Xianfeng of MEE giving opening remark at the 5th U.S.-China Green Ports and Vessels Initiative Workshop. Right: MEE delegation field visit shore power system at Port of LA.

As one pathway to reduce emissions from the existing diesel fleet, China is looking at promoting the use of clean alternative fuels such as electric-drive technologies for heavy trucks, in order to improve both air quality and GHG emissions. The last component of this study tour introduced to the group the latest tool for assessing lifecycle emission impacts of various alternative fuel technologies that form the basis for future clean vehicle and fuel policies in China.

The tour generated a list of potential near-term actions in China, including establishing a national vehicle and fuel emissions lab, enhancing diesel fuel quality inspection and enforcement, launching agency-run in-use vehicle emission compliance testing, introducing an offroad engine registration and emission label system, and further tightening the emission-control area policy for ships.

Hui He