Clean Tech

Charting a holistic roadmap to tackle air pollution

V Rishi Kumar | Updated on October 23, 2019 Published on October 22, 2019

A multi-pronged attack is needed on pollution generated from different quarters if air quality has to improve in cities

Some describe air pollution as the new tobacco and tackling this major urban challenge must engage all stakeholders and policymakers. Taking it on piecemeal will not help. What it requires is a holistic roadmap covering not just the automotive sector but pollution caused by construction, industries and agri waste burning, among others. The challenge is multi-pronged as the deteriorating air quality continues to choke mega cities like Delhi. With the Diwali season, this could only get worse.

As for vehicular emissions, once we move over from Bharat Stage IV to BS VI, we can expect drastic reduction in terms of particulate matter, NOx (oxides of Nitrogen) and hydrocarbons, which are largely responsible for the smog we see in some parts of the country, particularly north India, during the winter.

Ashim Sharma, Partner and Group Head of Nomura Research Institute (NRI) Consulting & Solutions, who focusses on pollution solutions, says, “Tackling pollution calls for an integrated approach where we will have to look at it from two perspectives, bad air quality and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”

Bad air quality is primarily a result of particulate matter (PM 2.5), NOx, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. While particulate matter causes lung ailments, NOx causes smog, acid rain and ground level ozone. Hydrocarbons and CO2, also harmful pollutants, are however largely taken care of in the current generation of vehicles fitted with treatment systems.

Explaining the issues and challenges of air pollution, Sharma says India is a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement and has agreed to reduce emission intensity by 33-35 per cent below the 2005 level. Therefore, while emissions will increase in absolute numbers, the intensity target will help drive measures to limit the increase.

Bad air quality has forced various agencies to spring into action. They have been particularly critical of vehicular pollution and the auto sector. It is said that with BS VI, the emissions will be cleaner than the air we normally breathe within our homes in cities, but it would not have any oxygen in it. But that may not help as a large BS IV vehicle population will take many years to phase out and the impact that BS VI vehicles could bring in will take a long time to become effective. The other way of tackling the problem would be by scrapping the older vehicles, Sharma argues.

He also feels that to handle the challenge of GHGs, we would have to look at electrification because hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-powered electric vehicles can contribute in different measures towards reducing GHGs. Diesel has lower GHG emission than petrol because the mileage of diesel vehicles is much higher. Therefore, when the renewable energy mix goes up, like it does in Scandinavian countries, a large EV fleet achieves the benefits from the reduction in GHGs.

While the focus is always on vehicular population, the construction industry (including road building activity), industrial and agricultural waste burning are also major polluters that need to be tackled to bring in desired results. Hence, measures such as cleaning the dust left behind by construction through mechanised vacuum cleaners and incentivising farmers to not burn their harvest residue in winter will have to be looked at.

According to Sharma, currently the country’s energy usage mix is 70 per cent fossil fuel dependent. But the government’s drive to promote renewables could bring this down to 40 per cent of the mix by 2030. However, the number of vehicles is expected to double from 51 million in 2019 to 101 million in 2030. This is where, despite the increase in BS VI vehicles, which will reduce the vehicular particulate matter emissions, we will have to do a lot more.

This is why experts point out that even with fleets of battery electric vehicles, pollution will still be a problem if road dust, construction dust, crop burning and industrial pollution are not controlled. This contributes 60-75 per cent to air pollution.

As a consulting firm, NRI helps companies to create a roadmap for cleaner emission technologies, advising them on what sort of business models and technologies they should adopt, the viability of electrification and how wider adoption of electric mobility could play a major role in tackling air-quality issues.

But the battle against pollution has to be fought on other fronts as well. Crop burning can be checked if farmers are provided subsidies for procuring machines to remove crop residue which can then be sold as a waste which, in turn, could be used to produce biogas. Similarly, methods must be devised to contain the dust raised by highway construction.

Referring to the BS IV to VI transition, Sharma notes that the Indian automotive sector has shown tremendous commitment while achieving the fastest transition in the world from BS IV to BS VI. However, to achieve the final objective of a better Air Quality Index, the baton must be passed on to other pollutant generating sectors as well.

Published on October 22, 2019
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