For the auto sector, the progressive shift towards tighter emission norms is somewhat akin to managing the impossible trinity of economics — or three objectives that cannot be achieved simultaneously. In this case, the three variables are the readiness of auto firms to shift up through the stages, the task of getting oil refining firms to make the requisite fuel available in time for this transition, and simultaneously ensuring that this does not drive up vehicle prices and running costs.
In question is the Bharat stage emission standard that regulates the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles. India has been following European emission norms, though with a time lag of five years, with BS-IV norms currently applicable in 33 cities where the required grade of fuel is available while the rest of the country follows BS-III standards.
The NDA government has in recent months reiterated its plan to advance the timelines for rolling out BS-VI fuel norms across the country by skipping a stage (BS-V) entirely. This week, the government is set to consult a team of international experts on automobile engine development to discuss whether India can skip that stage.
Auto firms have flagged their concerns as jumping directly to BS-VI would not offer enough time for the design changes to be instituted. While they have questioned the ability of oil marketing companies to provide fuel, these firms, in turn, are worried about the funds to get this done.
Directly aping the Euro norms might be yet another problem, considering that driving conditions peculiar to India might require the adaptation of two critical components —a diesel particulate filter and a selective catalytic reduction module — to work in these conditions, which restrict running speeds to much lower than in Europe.
Plus, the rollout model of introducing higher-grade fuel and vehicles in cities has fundamental drawbacks, as was evident in the BS-IV implementation. Four years after its introduction in metro cities, the penetration of BS-IV petrol in the domestic market is just 24 per cent and that for BS-IV-grade high speed diesel 16 per cent. In the periphery of designated BS-IV cities, BS-III vehicles could be registered; BS-IV vehicles (especially heavy duty vehicles) were more expensive and BS-III fuel was cheaper than the BS-IV equivalent. And inter-state trucks and buses — the biggest polluters — had to stay on with BS-III engines as the fuel available outside cities does not conform to BS-IV.
Stage by stage
India first introduced vehicular emission norms in 1991 and tightened those in 1996, with most vehicle manufacturers made to incorporate technology upgrades such as a catalytic converter to reduce exhaust emission. Fuel specifications based on environmental considerations were notified for the first time in the country in April 1996, to be followed by 2000.
Based on a Supreme Court order of April 1999, the Centre that month notified BS-II and BS-I norms, broadly equivalent to Euro II and Euro I, respectively for the metros and for the rest of India.
In line with the Auto Fuel Policy of 2003, BS-III norms were introduced from April 2005 for 13 major cities while the rest of the country followed BS-II. BS-IV and BS-III norms were introduced simultaneously from April 2010, again for 13 major cities and the rest of the country respectively.
As per the original timeline in the Auto Fuel Policy, BS-IV is to be adopted across the country by 2017, BS-V by 2020 and BS-VI by 2024. Many Western countries have already graduated to Euro VI, BS-VI is its equivalent.
The deadlines are set to be advanced by a year. As per an agreement reached at a meeting earlier this year between the ministries of Road Transport & Highways, Environment & Forests and Heavy Industries, and Automotive Research Association of India, the government is set to recommend to the Supreme Court that BS-V fuel be rolled out by 2019 and BS-VI be notified and implemented by 2023.
At the same time, it has set about moves to introduce BS-VI directly. Government sources told The Indian Express that the decision to consult representatives from leading European and Japanese engine development firms was taken after the PMO weighed in. Environment Secretary Ashok Lavasa had written to the PMO to decide on skipping BS-V altogether.
“International experts from six or seven engine development firms including Bosch and Cummins will make presentations before the road Transport and Environment ministries. They have been asked to examine possibilities of compressing the timelines for design, development and rollout of engines compliant with BS-V and BS-VI emission standards,” a government source said.
Car makers have been insisting on a phased rollout. “Though the fuel quality is not much different in BS-V and BS-VI, the engines have to be compliant to use the fuel,” says K K Gandhi, executive director (tech), Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. “In BS-V, vehicles have to be fitted with a diesel particulate filter, which needs to be optimised for Indian road conditions. In stage VI, selective catalytic reduction technology has to be optimised. At each stage, the technology would have to be validated over 6 lakh to 7 lakh km. Given the complexity of the process, these technologies can only be optimised in series and not simultaneously. It is not possible to skip BS-V.”
The diesel particulate filter (DPF) for removing particulate matter is a cylindrical object that has to be mounted inside the engine compartment. In India, where small cars are preferred, fitting DPF into the limited bonnet space would involve major redesign. The bonnet length may have to be increased, which would make vehicles breach the prevalent excise bracket for sub-4 metre cars.
The DPF would further have to be optimised for Indian operating conditions. “The technology is available in Europe. But it cannot be used in plug-and-play mode,” says Gandhi. “In Indian conditions, low driving speed means it is difficult to achieve temperatures of 600°C required to burn the soot in DPF. Usually diesel is injected to increase temperatures but excess fuel can cause a fire. The injection rate has to be optimised, vehicles re-engineered keeping in mind safety.”
The selective catalytic reduction (SCR) module is used to reduce oxides of nitrogen. When the exhaust is moving, an aqueous urea solution (AUS 32) is injected into the system. AUS 32 contains ammonia, which reacts with and reduces the nitrogen. This means a container needs to be put on board the car for deploying the AUS 32. Separately, infrastructure also needs to be set up across the country for supply of AUS 32. The optimisation and fitment of this technology would again take three to four years.
If both DPF and SCR are fitted together for testing, experts say, it will be extremely difficult to detect which of the technologies is at fault in case of any errors. “So even if oil companies want to skip, we need six to seven years to stage VI,” Gandhi says.
“The challenge for the industry is to adapt the solutions available elsewhere to work in Indian conditions. For this specific development and validation of technology is required. Adequate timeline for this development and also localisation of high cost parts in India is required,” says C V Raman, executive director, engineering, Maruti Suzuki.
“The auto industry, taking cognisance of the environmental concerns and its commitment to upgrade continuously to cleaner vehicles, has offered to advance the regulations by a year from the dates recommended by the auto fuel policy,” Raman says. “However, the fuel industry is yet to make their stand clear on availability of requisite fuel in time for this transition. Maruti Suzuki is well prepared to develop and market vehicles complying with BS-V and BS-VI as per the new industry-proposed timelines.” Other car markers such as Hyundai Motor and Honda Cars India did not respond to queries. The industry estimates an investment of Rs 50,000 crore for upgrade from BS-IV to BS-V.
Oil companies have said they would be in a position to make BS-VI fuel ready by 2020, which would allow BS-V to be skipped. Auto industry sources, however, say the oil firms have indicated that even in 2017, they would not be able to supply BS-IV fuel across the country, with the Northeast left out.
The oil ministry is reported to be preparing a roadmap to introduce BS-V fuel in at least the top three metros. “A roadmap is being prepared. Then, we will discuss by when we can roll it out,” says a senior officer with the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.
Refiners such as Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd, however, contend that graduating to any superior fuel requires a lot of investment, which may not be possible for the refiners to do. “It requires an investment of at least Rs 2,500 crore to upgrade one particular refinery in order to produce superior fuel. If we do that, our margins are going to take a hit. So, who will compensate for that?” a senior HPCL executive said.
In view of the reluctance of the refiners, the oil ministry is expected to petition the Finance Ministry seeking a subsidy on their investment for the upgrade. According to estimates furnished by the oil firms, investments to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore would have to be made by refineries to improve the fuel quality from BS-IV to BS-V.
BS-IV petrol and diesel contain far less sulphur than BS-III fuel. Sulphur in fuel makes it dirtier and lowers the efficiency of catalytic converters, which control emissions. Oil marketing firms are learnt to have invested Rs.30,000 crore between 2005 and 2010 towards upgrade for supplying BS-IV fuel. Investments of similar magnitude were made by the auto industry to upgrade vehicle technology.
While passenger vehicle manufacturers have been selling BS-IV variants even beyond the 33 cities where that fuel is available, all commercial vehicles (heavy trucks and buses) comply with BS-III norms. These vehicles travel inter-state and therefore have to refuel at BS-III stations.
Using BS-III fuel in BS-IV vehicles lowers efficacy of the engine. The performance of the engine too is affected. Maruti Suzuki, for one, has been selling BS-IV passenger vehicles uniformly all over India since 2010.
“We design a common specification for BS-III and BS-IV applications,” says Maruti Suzuki’s Raman. “Although the specification is common, the performance of the BS-IV vehicle with a BS-III fuel available in the rest of India will be equivalent to a BS-III vehicle or slightly better. Emission performance of these vehicles cannot be the same as when the vehicle is used with BS-IV fuel available in 33 cities. Moving to BS-IV across the country has been a demand of the auto industry.”