Improving Fuel Quality in India (webinar notes)

The ICCT India team last week broadcast the second webinar of its three-part series on analyses of cleaner vehicles and fuels in India. (E-mail us if you’d like to be informed of the next one, in late June.) The first webinar surveyed the role of vehicle emission standards and compliance programs. This one focused on cleaner fuels, and covered fuel quality in India both past and present, reasons for the need to reduce sulfur content of fuels, enhancement of compliance activities to ensure that fuel standards are being met, and possible mechanisms for vapor recovery controls during refueling. The presentation looked at India‚Äôs successes to date and also outlined future policy options, all within the context of other countries’ experience.

A lively discussion followed the presentation. Questions ranged from the role of inspection and maintenance (I/M) programs to shifting driving styles in order to reduce fuel consumption. One topic of particular interest was the implementation of vapor recovery systems in India (slide 10 of the presentation).

Vapor recovery systems can be classified into three general stages (also called phases). Stage I vapor recovery controls focus on capturing vapors emitted during the refueling of underground fuel storage tanks at retail outlets. Stage II and onboard vapor recovery (ORVR) systems recover vapors in vehicle fuel tanks emitted when consumers refuel their vehicles. Stage II controls are installed on retailers’ fuel pumps and return vapors to underground storage tanks, while ORVR systems are fitted onto vehicles and keep vapors inside vehicle fuel tanks.

To date, India has not implemented any vapor recovery control systems on a wide scale. The discussion during the webinar was especially interesting in terms of implementing Stage II and/or ORVR controls, since they both recover vapors from the same source.

While there is no clear, correct answer to this question, the experience of the U.S. may offer a useful example of the possibilities in India. In places with poor air quality in the U.S., Stage II controls were implemented for all fuel retail outlets. This had the benefit of immediately controlling evaporative emissions. ORVR systems were subsequently mandated for new vehicles. The table below compares these two approaches.

Stage II
Pros Cons
  • Quick implementation by retrofitting retail outlets
  • Effective installation oversight needed
  • Can be implemented regionally based on need
  • High capital investment
  • Significant monitoring and maintenance needed
Pros Cons
  • High efficiency (98% per vehicle)
  • Long implementation time due to slow fleet turnover
  • Low maintenance, does not deteriorate with time
  • Needs effective testing and approval
  • Inexpensive per vehicle cost
  • Some in-use conditions may cause malfunctioning

As the number of vehicles with ORVR systems installed increased in the U.S., Stage II control mandates were lifted. This took the cost burden off retail outlets, while providing for a similar level of control over evaporative emissions.

India can learn from the experience of the U.S., but it will have to adapt its vapor-recovery regulatory policies according to its own needs and constraints. One particular challenge for India is the high fraction of 2- and 3-wheelers in both sales and vehicle stock. ORVR systems for these vehicles are still nascent, and further progress may be needed before they are mandated on all new vehicles. Whichever path India chooses, there is no doubt that vapor recovery systems will not only go a long way toward reducing overall evaporative emissions in the country, but also protect the health of both retail outlet attendants and people that live close to the fuel stations.

Clean air Fuels
Emissions control Emissions modeling