China Enacts Tougher Gasoline Standard

The new year marked the implementation in China of higher gasoline quality standards designed to help reduce air pollution. At least one observer warned that automobile air emissions levels will probably continue rising. Still, the gasoline standard is seen as an important step toward eventually addressing the problem.

Chinas central government decided late last year to begin enforcing a nationwide limit of 50 parts per million sulfur in gasoline beginning Jan. 1. A few areas had previously adopted the 50 ppm cap, which is one third the level of the prior nationwide limit.

The 50 ppm limit was meant to correspond with the National IV emissions standard for new light-duty vehicles powered by gasoline. The vehicular standard was adopted in mid-2011, and analysts say the lag in implementing the fuel standard effectively kept new cars from meeting the standard that applied to them.

National IV vehicles running on 150 ppm gasoline would have higher emissions than the same vehicles running on 50 ppm gasoline, Robert Earley, transport program manager for Clean Air Asias office in Beijing, told Lube Report Asia. Of course, bringing appropriate fuel to these vehicles would have benefits for air quality. Clean Air Asia is a nonprofit organization based in Manila.

But Earley also explained that air emissions from gasoline-powered cars will continue to increase.

The standard only applies to new vehicles, he noted. Although China could be selling up to 18 million cars per year now, it will take a while for old cars to be retired and new cars to come on the market. Also, as auto sales are growing dramatically, even if the emissions of each car are cut in half, the effect of this reduction will be cancelled out by growth in total population.

Moreover, diesel-powered trucks pollute at higher rates than cars, and the country has yet to adopt standards for trucks or diesel fuel that equate to National IV.

When China's truck emissions standards truly come to market, and appropriate fuels are reliably supplied across the country, then we will see more dramatic reductions in particulate matter emissions from transport, Earley said. The ideal situation will be when China adopts standards equivalent to Euro VI, which requires diesel particulate filters on trucks. Then over 99 percent of particulate matter from diesel vehicles will be eliminated. These vehicles are said to require 10 ppm sulfur diesel, which is scheduled to be implemented by 31 December, 2017.

When vehicles with particulate filters and other emissions control technologies do become the norm in China, they should significantly impact the countrys lubricant market. Such technologies are already common in markets such as Western Europe and North America where lubricant marketers have had to offer higher quality engine oils that generally bear higher prices.