India’s Diesel Cars Are Proving Lethal

Cities across India suffer from some of the poorest air quality in the world. The problem is so severe that it’s costing the country 1.1 trillion rupees ($18 billion) annually in the shortened life spans of productive members of the urban population, according to a World Bank report… Airborne particulate pollution causes more than 116,000 deaths annually in India, afflicting the younger, most productive members of the population the most…


india-diesel-cars-are-proviMolecular biologist George Easow’s move to India to start a clinical diagnostics business lasted just three weeks before he decided to give up and return to the U.K. Within days of the family’s move to New Delhi, his 7-month-old daughter, Fiona, was wheezing and gasping for air because of smog. “She could hardly breathe,” says her father. Fiona was kept indoors and put on medication. Nothing worked. “We had to make a call,” Easow says, adding that her symptoms disappeared once they were back in the U.K. and haven’t returned. For the 16.8 million residents of India’s capital, the wheezing continues. The bad news is, it’s going to get worse.
Cities across India suffer from some of the poorest air quality in the world. The problem is so severe that it’s costing the country 1.1 trillion rupees ($18 billion) annually in the shortened life spans of productive members of the urban population, according to a June World Bank report. While Beijing and Shanghai air pollution caused by coal-burning factories are well known, Delhi residents suffer even more by some measures, though the main source of the smog is cars and trucks running on cheap diesel. Indian Government subsidies for the fuel add up to $15 billion a year. Farmers and truckers, both big voting blocs, rely on cheap diesel.
India’s diesel-powered vehicles pump out exhaust gases with 10 times the carcinogenic particles found in gasoline exhaust. The result: Delhi’s air on average last year was laced with double the toxic particles per cubic meter reported in Beijing, leading to respiratory diseases, lung cancer, and heart attacks. “I have no doubt, 100 per cent, that diesel exhaust is contributing to a rise in asthma, respiratory illnesses, and hospitalisations,” says Dr. T.K. Joshi, director of Delhi’s Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at Maulana Azad Medical College.
Diesel passenger vehicles accounted for 49 per cent of all new cars sold in India last year, up from a third in 2008, according to the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). The market share of diesel-powered cars is surging in part because the fuel sells at a 24 per cent discount to gasoline, which is not subsidised. Besides being cheaper—about $3.34 a gallon in Delhi—diesel gets better mileage. In comparison, only 0.5 per cent of China’s new passenger cars run on diesel, according to Germany’s Bosch Group, which makes auto exhaust cleaning systems for diesel vehicles.
India’s diesel-powered cars comply with emissions standards that are at least nine years behind Europe’s. These cars will remain on the roads for years even if tougher rules are introduced, says Anup Bandivadekar, India program director for the ICCT. “The future implications are what make the problem so worrisome,” he says.
Airborne particulate pollution causes more than 116,000 deaths annually in India, afflicting the younger, most productive members of the population the most, according to Muthukumara Mani, senior environmental economist at the World Bank. A World Health Organization report says air pollution contributed to 620,000 premature deaths in India in 2010. India’s diesel exhaust systems lack Europe’s mandatory emission-scrubbing technology, but most locally refined diesel contains so much sulfur that it would ruin the equipment.
Carmakers say they want clear directions from the Government. “The auto industry has been asking for a single regime of fuel and emission norms across the country,” says C.V. Raman, executive director of engineering at Maruti Suzuki. A move to current European standards for the fuel would reduce emissions as much as 80 per cent, he says.
India’s state-owned refineries may prove to be the stumbling block to cleaner fuel. Hindustan Petroleum (HPCL:IN), Indian Oil (IOCL:IN), and Bharat Petroleum(BPCL:IN) have little incentive to upgrade refineries to produce fuel lower in sulfur because they lose money on every gallon of diesel sold. Upgrading one refinery to make diesel fuel as clean as Europe’s would cost 25 billion rupees, says S. Roy Choudhury, chairman of Hindustan Petroleum. “Diesel prices need to be increased to cut demand. That’s the primary issue,” he says. Yet the Government policy of subsidising diesel is unlikely to end soon, as it would raise prices during an election year.
Diesel engines emit pollutants in the category known as PM2.5, or airborne particles and liquid droplets measuring less than 2.5 micrometers—one-thirtieth the width of a strand of hair. Because they’re so small, they penetrate deep into the lungs and pass into the bloodstream, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2013, the annual average concentration of PM2.5 in New Delhi was 173 micrograms per cubic meter, compared with 89.5 micrograms in Beijing, according to data from India’s Central Pollution Control Board and the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center. The World Health Organization says people should not be exposed to more than 10 micrograms a year.
Fine particulate matter is also produced in India by coal-fired power plants, diesel generators, and cooking fuel. But the major source in the cities is vehicles, says Sumit Sharma, a fellow at the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi. “That’s dangerous because it’s happening closer to the breathing level of people,” says Sharma. “It’s not happening from a 220-meter-high chimney but at the level of one meter.” The bottom line: The Indian Government’s $15 billion diesel subsidy guarantees cheap fuel but creates toxic air pollution.
– Bloomberg Businessweek


India Approves 3 Billion Rupees In solar Pump Subsidies

India has 26 million groundwater pumps on farms that suffer from blackouts and volatile fuel costs. Switching those to run on solar would save about $6 billion a year in power and diesel subsidies…

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India approved 3 billion rupees ($49 million) in subsidies to help farmers install solar-powered water pumps to boost agricultural yields and reduce expensive diesel fuel use. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy will provide grants to install 17,500 irrigation pumping systems to 2016 funded by a carbon tax on coal, according to a notice posted recently on its website.“Solar photovoltaic pumping systems can easily meet the irrigation requirements for small and marginal farmers,” the notice said. “It will increase the cropping intensity.”

India has 26 million groundwater pumps on farms that suffer from blackouts and volatile fuel costs. Switching those to run on solar would save about $6 billion a year in power and diesel subsidies and has drawn companies including BlackRock Inc.- backed SunEdison Inc. (SUNE) and Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd. (JI), Asia’s top irrigation-equipment maker. Farmers travel long distances to procure diesel for their pumps, the notice said. The project will allow them to boost output and reduce diesel consumption, it said.
The grants will cover as much as 30 per cent of project costs. State Governments including Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra that participate in the program will be required to match with a subsidy covering at least 15 per cent of the cost. Farmers will cover the remainder. The program’s total cost is estimated at about 10 billion rupees. India began taxing coal producers and importers 50 rupees a metric ton in 2010, raising 25 billion rupees in its first year.
– Bloomberg Businessweek

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