Improving Fuel Quality in the World's Largest Auto Market
Pollution from vehicles using low-quality fuels is a key culprit behind China’s infamous air pollution crisis. But fuel standards have lagged behind vehicle emissions standards.
The China Transportation Program (CTP) has worked to strengthen China’s fuel standards since 2004. It began by supporting Tsinghua University and the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP)-affiliated Vehicle Emission Control Center (VECC) in holding China’s first international workshop on low sulfur vehicle fuel in 2005. At the workshop, the university, VECC, and the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) shared their research on improving China’s fuel quality with policymakers.
CTP also worked with the Research Institute of Petroleum Processing (RIPP) on the China III, IV, and V gasoline and vehicle diesel fuel standards. RIPP was the logical grantee to align with because it houses the organization that’s responsible for formulating and managing China’s fuel quality standards: the National Technical Committee 280 on Petroleum Products and Lubricants (TC280) of the Standardization Administration of China.
The structure of TC280 is a challenge to improving China’s fuel quality. Among the 43 government and industry representatives in TC280, the petrochemical industry accounts for about 90 percent and vehicle manufacturers 2 percent of positions, while environmental protection representatives account for only about 5 percent. The committee chairman and the Secretariat are both housed within Sinopec.
CTP found a way to work around this institutional obstacle: The program supported efforts by the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences (CRAES) and VECC to strengthen the hazardous materials control standard for vehicle gasoline and diesel. Drawing on work by these grantees, in 2011 MEP issued the Hazardous Materials Control Standard for Motor Vehicle Gasoline and Diesel (IV and V), helping to reduce vehicle emissions even in the absence of China IV and V fuel quality standards.
The Beijing region’s multiple bouts of severe air pollution since 2011 have been a regrettable if useful spur to more aggressive action on clean fuel. It has allowed CTP grantees like the China Automotive Technology & Research Center (CATARC), ICCT, and VECC to find more receptive audiences among policymakers for their work on fuel quality standards, upgrading costs and subsidy policy, and implementation plans.
On the heels of what was dubbed “Airpocalypse,” China’s State Council in February 2013 called for accelerated efforts to upgrade fuel quality. The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine and the Standardization Administration of China were required to issue the Phase IV motor gasoline standard (no more than 50 ppm of sulfur content) and the Phase V automotive diesel standard (no more than 10 ppm of sulfur content) before the end of June 2013, and the Phase V motor gasoline fuel standard (no more than 10 ppm of sulfur content) before the end of 2013. In September 2013, the National Development and Reform Commission issued the Notice on Opinions for the Pricing Policy of Fuel Quality Upgrading, which incentivize fuel producers to invest in fuel upgrades by raising gasoline and diesel costs at the pump.
Going forward, China’s challenge will be to establish a rigorous supervision and management regime for clean fuels. CTP is powering on to help ensure that the fuel products available on the market consistently abide by official standards.
"Energy Foundation China has played a great role as a supporter and facilitator as it pushes forward the release of clean fuel standards and the upgrading of fuel supplies by backing up relevant research, organizing forums, and inviting international experts to share international experiences." -Wang Jian, deputy director general of MEP’s Department of Pollution Prevention and Control.