China has been afflicted with the two worst months of pollution in recorded history; only four days in January and February were considered to be at safe levels. Now, the world’s most populous country is also its most polluted.
Beijing, the Chinese capital, is home to over 20 million people. It is also home to the largest car market in the world, and it is where pollution levels are recorded.
In February, seventeen days reached levels that were extremely “hazardous.”
January was the worst. According to Sky News, eighteen days in that month were at twelve times the safe limit measure. Three of the eighteen days were astronomical, and on one day the air was so polluted with smog that it reached a staggering forty times the safe level.
Naturally, the astounding figures created a media storm; social media had a field day, and even state-sanctioned newspapers were printing a call for action, as Sky News reports. The blame fell straight to the number of vehicles in Beijing, most of which run on low-grade fuel.
China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), China’s leading energy company, is stepping up and taking action. The company plans to spend 15 billion yuan ($2.4 billion) in oil refinement efforts to see that the city of Beijing, and China overall, lowers its vehicle emissions, according to Bloomberg.
Chairman Fu Chengyu of China Petrochemical Corp. said in an interview with China Central television last month that the company will be pumping 30 billion yuan a year to clean up the fuel it produces.
And last Friday, Beijing implemented its own city-wide sanctions with what it is calling the “China V emission standard.” It will mirror the “Euro V Standard,” as Sky News reports, and vehicles not meeting its guidelines will be forbidden from traveling its roadways. This sanction will also hold up for the sale of vehicles that don’t meet the standard.
The allocation of money into refining efforts would upgrade China’s fuel from its present China lll into a China lV, and an eventual ease into a China V grade fuel.
The V standard will cap off sulfur content at 10 parts per million, where the lV standard rests at 50 parts per million. All Chinese gasoline must meet the standard lV by year end, with diesel meeting the same requirement the following year. The end goal is to have all fuel meet the China V standard by 2017, Bloomberg reports.
Presently, Chinese fuel is refined to a low standard, and the end product contains high amounts of sulfur. Drivers don’t think to upgrade their vehicles because of the quality of fuel they have to use, so problems are compounded, and many cars on the road are in poor condition.
Natural gas is also on the Chinese radar and would naturally reduce the demand for oil. Experts believe that if China can fuel its vehicles with a cleaner-burning natural gas, it would eliminate one tenth of Beijing’s oil consumption—that’s equivalent to all of Turkey today.
As Dawn.com reports, a campaign to promote more natural gas in Beijing would reduce the nation's reliance on oil imports and coal. If the campaign proves successful, gas consumption could grow to 55 billion cubic meters (840,000 bpd of oil) by 2030—ten times the amount of natural gas used in vehicles today 9 percent of China’s oil demand.
There were 1.48 million vehicles operating on natural gas in China last year. It nearly doubled from 2011, according to Dawn.com.
China is targeting the transport sector—taxis, buses, trucks, and ships—a good indication of its usefulness.
Production is no issue, as Dawn.com reports more than 30 Chinese automakers produce natural gas vehicles. The real problem right now is that once the vehicles are out there operating, how will they be able to fill up? The infrastructure is lacking, mostly available in the west and south west where natural gas production is underway.
But some, like taxi drivers, do see the benefit; the cleaner fuel is sometimes more than half the price of gasoline and a third less than diesel. It’s imperative that taxi drivers are able to fuel up, and more and more filling stations are being built.
A gas engine can cost much more than a diesel engine, but it can also pay for itself in a matter of months. From there, the vehicle will run on a cleaner, much cheaper fuel that saves money over time.
China uses more energy than any place else in the world, and is the fourth-largest gas user. By 2020, the nation hopes natural gas will meet 10 percent of its total energy demand, Dawn.com reports. At the moment, domestic production can’t meet its demand, and China has struck long-term deals with nations like Australia.
In the past decade China has taken measures to address the growing pollution problem, but as Chinese population grows by leaps and bounds, it has proven hard to control. The V standard may be an answer and breathe new life into its people. It could also be the high road China has been waiting for.