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What is behind the diesel cars emissions scandal?

All 93 vehicles tested in Germany and UK exceeded EU-set limits on air quality and pollution in real-world situation

The air pollution scandal that hit front pages around the world last year with VW’s admission it had been cheating emissions tests has got much bigger.

A UK government-sponsored trial launched in the wake of the VW revelations has found that every single one of the diesel-fuelled vehicles tested had higher emissions of nitrogen oxide pollutants than permitted under EU laws. For some models emissions were 12 times the legal limit.

None of the 56 vehicles tested in Germany and 37 in the UK was found to have a defeat device aimed at artificially lowering its emissions under test conditions, such as those used by VW. But all were found to exceed the EU-set standards on air quality and pollution when driven in real-world situations. Clearly there are important questions for manufacturers.

So what is happening? Crucially, the higher emissions were found to be the result of engine management systems that are routinely used by manufacturers to improve the performance of their vehicles. One by-product is more polluting emissions.

Environmentalists say the result is not unexpected. “This confirms what experts have been saying for years: deadly emissions are far higher in the real world than in controlled tests in the lab,” said Oliver Hayes of Friends of the Earth.

“Governments say they are championing ‘real driving emissions’ but this is a smokescreen. These standards are far weaker than those that currently exist.”

This points to the inadequacy of current testing regimes, but it also reveals a much more alarming truth: that manufacturers are tuning their vehicles’ engines in a way that hurts all of us. Engine management systems have become standard across the industry, and these new tests make it clear that they are there for one purpose: to improve the performance of the car, even if that comes at the expense of those breathing in the air from their exhausts.

Diesel engines produce much higher levels of air pollutants than petrol-driven engines, although they produce less carbon dioxide. This has led EU member states to encourage drivers into diesel cars, reducing the impact of driving on climate change but vastly increasing the problem of air pollution.

The UK is one of the few EU countries that tax diesel at the same rate as petrol, as most countries skew their taxation levels to favour diesel (although tax parity still favours diesels because they do more miles per gallon).

It is ironic that the push for lower carbon dioxide emissions to combat climate change has led to higher air pollution. And the European commission has been slow to get to grips with the problem. A major announcement on air pollution in late 2013 failed to even mention diesel cars.

But the problem is now pressing, as new research is revealing the extent of the damage being done routinely to our health, particularly the majority of the world’s population who live in cities. About 7% of deaths are caused or contributed to by air pollution, according to the World Health Organisation, and the effects on people’s quality of life is even greater. Long a silent killer, air pollution is now being recognised for its devastating effects, particularly on small children and older people.

The question those breathing the pollution will be asking is whether governments are prepared to act.

SCMP: CNOOC backs planned trial of LNG vehicles in Hong Kong; HK Gov: LNG ‘not the best transport fuel choice for Hong Kong’

from Cheung Chi-fai of the SCMP:

CNOOC backs planned trial of LNG vehicles in Hong Kong

The mainland’s biggest LNG supplier is backing a move to introduce the fuel into Hong Kong’s transport market as an affordable solution to the city’s notorious roadside pollution problems.

China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) is working with a local company on plans to introduce liquefied natural gas as vehicle fuel, with a vision of building a network of LNG refuelling stations similar to those found in mainland cities.

The partnership between CNOOC and the Hong Kong LNG Company will see the companies work with a cross-border coach operator to trial an LNG bus. But no refuelling facilities will be built yet because LNG is not covered by local laws. The bus will be refuelled in Shenzhen, which has at least 13 LNG refuelling stations to support hundreds of vehicles.

Zhu Jianwen, president of CNOOC Gas and Power Trading & Marketing, said Hong Kong was surrounded by a massive, robust LNG supply network and could take advantage of this.

The world’s third-largest LNG buyer, CNOOC imported almost 22 million tonnes last year. The Dapeng LNG terminal in eastern Shenzhen also supplies Hongkong Electric and Towngas via an underwater pipe.


Green is way to go for biodiesel plant

Samson Lee

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Hong Kong-based company is investing US$164 million (HK$1.28 billion) to build a biodiesel plant to produce 100,000 tonnes of fuel each year.

“As a clean, alternative transport fuel made from waste, our biodiesel has the potential to make a valuable contribution to improving Hong Kong’s environment,” ASB Biodiesel chief executive Anthony Dixon said yesterday.

Dixon said emissions of greenhouse gases from biodiesel are 85 percent less than those of fossil diesel.

Widespread use of biofuel has sparked controversy, with opponents seeking to taint the diversion of crop supplies toward biofuel production as disastrous for food supply.

Dixon said the problem may be overcome by producing biofuel from waste.

He also said rising food prices will have little impact on production costs.

Noting that local demand for biodiesel currently stands at 70,000 tonnes a year, Dixon urged the government to provide more support for producers.

He said the fuel his firm produces will be distributed to local petrochemical and oil companies, as well as the international marketplace.

Construction of ASB Biodiesel’s plant – located on an 18,000-square-meter site in Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate – will be completed in December 2012, with production starting in 2013.

Greeners Action executive director Angus Ho Hong-wai said biodiesel use can reduce our dependence on fossil diesel, which generates large amounts of air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide.

Ho suggested the government offer incentives, such as providing land, for producers to build their plants. There are currently three biodiesel production plants in the territory.

In order to promote the use of biodiesel locally, motor vehicle biodiesel is duty-free.

Ferry operators get assurance on the cost of cleaner diesel

Cheung Chi-fai and Anita Lam – SCMP

The extra cost of using cleaner diesel in Hong Kong’s ferries is likely to be much less than ferry operators have claimed, the environment watchdog says.

Ultra-low-sulphur marine diesel, which went on trial in five ferries yesterday, would cost about 60 HK cents a litre more than conventional diesel, not up to HK$3 as the companies had estimated, the Environmental Protection Department said.

But one of the operators said the cleaner fuel would still push up its operating costs by 10 per cent, increasing pressure for a fare rise.

A department spokesman said clean diesel now cost HK$4.50 a litre, compared with HK$3.90 for conventional marine diesel, subject to oil-price fluctuations.

Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry said that price difference would lead to a 10 per cent rise in operating costs if all its vessels used the fuel.

“The additional cost would erode our meagre profit and increase pressure for a fare rise,” general manager Nelson Ng Siu-yuen said.

Launching the nine-month trial of the cleaner fuel yesterday, the Environmental Protection Department said it would pay up to HK$10 million in incentives for ferry operators to take part. The money was for fuel subsidies and technical monitoring. The trial would provide data on operating costs, and the impact on maintenance and technical performance to help officials decide whether all ferries should use cleaner fuel.

The fuel, 100 times lower in sulphur, will be supplied to five selected ferries by an oil barge operated by Sinopec (SEHK: 0386) in Cheung Sha Wan.

These are New World First Ferry’s Xin Hui III and VIII between Central and Cheung Chau and Xin Ying running from Central to Mui Wo; Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry’s Hoi Ming connecting Central and Peng Chau; and a Hong Kong and Yaumati Ferry car-carrier between Kwun Tong and North Point.

The Star Ferry did not join the trial, saying its own trial of cleaner diesel in 2006 resulted in loss of power, higher fuel consumption, and engine corrosion. “We will still keep track of the trial results of other ferry operators,” general manager Johnny Leung Tak-hing said.

The department spokesman said there had been no mechanical problems for government vessels since they started using the cleaner fuel in 2000. He said there were other solutions to resolve the operators’ worries about the lubricating effect of sulphur in the engines.

The spokesman said that if all local passenger ferries switched to the cleaner fuel, the total sulphur emissions from the marine sector could be cut by about 12.5 per cent. Other sulphur emissions come from domestic vessels such as barges and fishing boats, as well as ocean-going vessels and cross-border ferries.

The Marine Department said four local vessel operators were convicted for black-smoke emissions last year, compared with none in 2007

Ferry firms must play part in clearing the air


The unsightly black smoke that pours from ferries as they churn across the harbour tells much about the Hong Kong government’s approach to air pollution. It is a clear sign of the need for greater urgency. Such emissions are from another era, an age when the world had little concern for the environment. Visitors look at the pall and in an instant think our city is out of step with global concerns about climate change, sustainability and public health.

This is not the case, of course. Lawmakers are only too aware of what they should be doing to clean our air. The Environmental Protection Department is staffed with highly skilled officers who are not short of facts, figures and solutions. What is holding up action is an unelected government under pressure from interest groups: in this instance, ferry companies.

A government with a popular mandate could quickly fix the problem by making it law that ferry operators use clean diesel to fuel their craft. There is no reason why our leaders could not also do the same in the name of the common good. We must remember, though, that the companies have been hit hard by the economic crisis and unstable fuel prices. Any move to get them to switch has to involve cajoling, convincing, incentives and help with infrastructure.

The nine-month trial of ultra-low-sulphur diesel involving three ferry companies announced yesterday fits with such a strategy. Passing it off as a technical and economic feasibility study lays the groundwork. The best locations for refuelling depots can be determined during the trial. From the initial five ferries, the programme can be broadened. During the nine months, the benefits that are already so obvious will be made plain to the ferry industry.

Ferry companies have to use cleaner fuel; on this there can be no argument. Higher fares may be necessary to help offset increased fuel costs. The trial will help determine the details. Unlike other schemes, though, this one must not be left high and dry after it ends or is implemented on a voluntary basis. Getting rid of such pollution is an integral part of cleaning Hong Kong’s air

Cleaner, Greener Diesel Cars Back On The Road

Anita Lam, SCMP –  Jun 18, 2009

New private diesel cars will be on sale in Hong Kong next month for the first time in more than a decade.

Audi’s distributor Premium Motors confirmed that one of its latest batch of Euro V diesel-engined cars, the Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Quattro, had passed the government’s stringent emimage004-1issions standards and would be arriving in about a month.

Motor traders began a global hunt for suitable diesel cars after the Environmental Protection Department introduced what it called “improved flexibility in vehicle emissions standards” in January.

Diesel engines are considered more powerful and fuel-efficient than petrol engines, but in the past they were not welcomed because they emitted high levels of particulates and smog-inducing nitrogen oxides. But carbon monoxide emissions from Audi’s latest diesel engine were more than six times lower than the emissions standard for a Euro-V petrol car, nitrogen oxide emissions were 16.7 per cent lower, and particulate levels 78 per cent lower.

Premium Motors managing director Chong Got said the same diesel engine had been running in Europe for three years, but it had been difficult to convince Audi to alter the engine’s specifications just to fit Hong Kong’s emissions requirements because such a move would only boost sales by several hundred vehicles a year.

“The decision was made beyond business concerns,” he said. “The manufacturer values Hong Kong as a market; they are more concerned in boosting the brand’s name and goodwill.”

Audi would introduce more diesel models in the future. The Audi Q7 was expected to cost about HK$800,000 – 10 per cent more than its petrol counterpart. But the diesel model had better acceleration and was also about 30 per cent more fuel-efficient than the petrol model.

Diesel sells for HK$8.89 per litre – about two-thirds the price of petrol in Hong Kong.
Motor Traders Association chairman Michael Lee said he did not believe diesel cars would become very popular in the short term because most manufacturers were reluctant to alter their diesel engines for a small market like Hong Kong, and others were exploring alternative green vehicle models like hybrids and electric cars.

Under the existing transport policy, a person can only register a diesel-engined car as commercial vehicle or a cargo van.

Owners of commercial vehicles have to spare a third of their cabin space for cargo storage and cannot enter certain places, such as Mid-Levels, at certain times, although they also enjoy a big waiver on the first-registration tax.

Cruise Ships To Get On-shore Power Supply

Paggie Leung, SCMP – Jun 12, 2009

The planned terminal for cruise liners at Kai Tak will be one of just a few in the world to offer on-shore power supply to ships – an environmentally friendly alternative to keeping the vessels’ engines running.

“Previously when a cruise liner anchored at a terminal, its electricity generator had to keep running, so there would be some emissions [of pollutants such as] carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide,” CLP Power director Paul Poon Wai-yin said yesterday after the topping-out ceremony for the first electricity substation at the Kai Tak site.

“But with the on-shore supply system, liners get electricity on shore and can switch off the generators so that there will be no emissions … in the city centre,” he said.

Cruise liners mainly used diesel to generate electricity, Mr Poon said, while the power company used more environmentally friendly resources – apart from coal – such as natural gas and nuclear power.

Another advantage of the on-shore system was its reliability. Five power substations will be built at Kai Tak. Apart from the cruise terminal, the facilities will also supply energy to nearby government offices, the Sha Tin-to-Central MTR link, the district cooling system, and residential and commercial projects.

The first substation is expected to be commissioned in mid-2012.

Environmental Benefits of Electric Cars Dismissed as ‘Fiction’

By Melissa Kite, Deputy Political Editor – 18 Apr 2009

The environmental benefits of electric cars are denounced as “fiction” by new research into green methods of transport.

The amount of energy used by coal fired power stations to create the electricity to recharge electric vehicles makes them half as efficient as diesel cars, according to the research.

Britain’s carbon emissions could even go up if there is a sudden surge in demand for electric cars, the new research warned.

It will call into question a £250 million government scheme announced last week offering consumers £5,000 subsidies to buy a new electric car.

The research conducted by the group Transport Watch found that diesel powered vehicles emit approximately half as much CO2 as electric cars when the use of fossil fuels to produce electricity is taken into account.

The research paper says: “We conclude that the notion that electric cars will reduce emissions is a fiction.”

Factors making the rechargeable cars less efficient include the amount of electricity lost on the journey between the coal fired power stations which generate it and the point where it recharges the car, and the energy lost by the batteries and the motor.

The researchers calculated that of the energy burned in a power station, only a quarter reaches an electric car after leakages and losses along the supply chain are considered, giving the vehicle an energy efficiency score of 24%.

A modern diesel engine, by contrast, achieves 45% efficiency.

The research suggests that if fossil fuels are to be burned, it is much more efficient to do it within the engine of a vehicle rather than at a power station and then try to send it via the National Grid, where a lot of energy is wasted, and finally to store it in a battery which in itself might leak power.

Currently the bulk of the electricity used to charge the batteries of electric vehicles is generated by fossil fuel burning power stations.

Only 20% of UK electricity is generated by ‘clean’ methods such as nuclear power.

The research by Paul Withrington of Transport Watch concludes that CO2 emissions could actually go up if there is suddenly a big demand for electricity to recharge batteries as it would have to come from existing fossil fuel power stations.

He calculated that in China, where most generation of electricity is coal fired, electrification of diesel powered transport would double the emissions from that sector.

There are also big financial and environmental costs involved in setting up a battery charging network.

Mr Withrington said: “The government should re-examine their assumptions and should not encourage this until they have decarbonised the generating industry. At the moment, it is nuts. If you bought an electric car now you would be looking at generating the same amount of carbon or more.”

The Government’s plans have also drawn criticism from motoring groups.

Philip Gomm, of the RAC Foundation, said: “Electric vehicles are not a panacea. They are good for generating headlines but not necessarily at saving the planet, at least not in the short term. For today and tomorrow, a lot more attention needs to be paid to refining existing petrol and diesel technology, and making cars smaller and lighter as a way of saving fuel – something recognised by the Committee on Climate Change. These are proven solutions to an immediate problem.”

The RAC has also questioned where the Government derived its £5,000 incentive per vehicle figure, when previous grants to buy electric cars have been £1,000.

The research can be viewed in full at

Introducing Natural Gas / Liquefied Petroleum Gas Buses And Heavy Duty Vehicles In Hong Kong – Feasibility Study

Source – EMSD

The objectives of this study are to assess the technical feasibility of introducing natural gas (NG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) buses and heavy duty vehicles to Hong Kong with a view to improving air quality.

This study concludes that LPG/NG vehicles are not practicable for buses or heavy duty vehicles in Hong Kong because of the difficulties associated with developing the infrastructure for an entirely new fuel. Also, the resulting environmental benefits in reducing vehicle emissions and improving air quality are diminishing.

The Port of Hong Kong – download the full report here.

Case Study: Hong Kong

The Port of Hong Kong has been a leading Asian seaport for more than a century and a top container port for more than three decades. Between 2001 and 2006, Hong Kong container throughput increased by 32 percent from 17.8 million to 23.5 million TEUs. Containerized cargo in Hong Kong now represents about 74 percent of Hong Kong’s total cargo throughput. In 2006, Hong Kong was the second largest container port in the world, although it is likely that it was surpassed by Shanghai in 2008. The port is served by 80 international shipping lines with over 450 container liner services per week to over 500 destinations worldwide. The port is managed by the Marine Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), the local government for the city.

Hong Kong is located in the Pearl River Delta, which includes other cities and container ports, including the Port of Shenzhen, the world’s fourth largest container port. Container traffic at Shenzhen has also steadily risen recently, to 18.5 million TEUs in 2006 compared with 5.0 million TEUs in 2001. Together, in 2006, the Hong Kong and Shenzhen ports accounted for 9.5 percent of global container volume, making the Pearl River Delta the largest container handling region in the world. Cargo throughput is expected to grow. A study commissioned by the Hong Kong Transport and Housing Bureau estimates that, by 2030, Hong Kong will handle between 39 and 43 million TEUs.

Air quality in the Hong Kong is generally poor and levels remain much higher than the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines. Since 1990, emissions of all air pollutants have risen dramatically.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides doubled and particulate matter showed over a 90 percent gain. In 2006, Civic Exchange, a nonprofit public policy research organization based in Hong Kong, published a report, Marine Emission Reduction Options for Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta Region, which found that local vehicle and marine emissions are the dominant source of air pollution in Hong Kong during prevailing wind conditions that exist about one-third of the year.

Governments and other stakeholders in the maritime sector have already implemented some positive measures including the promotion of low sulfur fuel use by marine vessels and port vehicles, the use of electricity to power port machinery and the reduction of fuel consumption through efficiency measures. These measures in themselves have not been sufficient to reduce port emissions on a scale necessary to protect public health, but pressure to take more ambitious action is growing.

In February and March 2008, Civic Exchange sponsored two workshops for stakeholders involved in port environmental issues. The working group for the workshop included four stakeholder groups: oceangoing vessel operators, port operators, local craft harbor operators and land vessel operators involved in port activities. The stakeholder groups all endorsed government incentives to encourage green technologies and to pay the incremental cost of ultra low sulfur diesel fuel compared to lower grade conventional fuels. They also supported increased research and development of advanced technologies for marine applications, pursuit of shore power use by berthed ships and the creation of a low emission area subject to IMO regulations.

The recommendations of the working group were used by Civic Exchange in the development of its July 2008 report, Green Harbours: Hong and Shenzhen — Reducing Marine and Port Related Pollution. The report’s five key recommendations are as follows:

• In the short term: Foster greater regional collaboration across borders, port and marine sectors
• In the medium term: Develop a comprehensive green ports strategy and related policy measures to create the regulatory and planning framework for implementing green port policies
• Develop cleaner fuels initiatives to encourage the use and availability of cleaner fuels
• Expand training programs for industry employees to encourage proper equipment operation to ensure efficient operation
• Conduct additional port related research to identify new green port projects suitable for Hong Kong

Hong Kong is responding to the increased recognition of the role of port activities in the city’s environmental problems. In June 2008, Hong Kong ratified the MARPOL Annex VI marine fuel quality standards as a Special Administrative Region of China recognized at the IMO separately from the national government in Beijing, which had already ratified the agreement. It plans to go beyond the new IMO regulations by applying fuel quality standards to local shipping as well as international commerce
regulated by the IMO.

Emissions from ships in Hong Kong harbor are regulated by the Marine Department. Ships in the harbor now use 5,000 ppm sulfur fuel. The ferry system will start running a trial using 50 ppm sulfur fuel early next year. Assuming the results are positive, political leaders seem committed to continue its use in ferries, but not to expand it to other craft without the cooperation of other cities in the Pearl River Delta mooring local marine craft.

The Hong Kong Shipowners Association (HKSOA) was very active during the few years of debate before the MARPOL Annex VI Amendments were adopted in October 2008, says Arthur Bowring, Managing Director of the group. The HKSOA represents more than 100 shipping companies that own more than 1,100 ships. “Environment is our biggest single challenge,” adds Bowring, referring to shipowners.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) is the chief air pollution regulatory agency in Hong Kong for landside emission sources, including all types of motorized vehicles. “Marine emissions are a new issue for us,” notes W.C. Mok, Principal Environmental Protection Officer.206 There are currently no regulatory standards that apply to offroad cargo handling equipment at ports. Onroad trucks fueling in Hong Kong are required to buy diesel fuel containing only 10 ppm sulfur, but when refueling takes place across the border with mainland China, they are subject only to a 500 ppm sulfur cap. Since most trucks delivering containers to Hong Kong pick up their cargo at mainland factories, most diesel fuel burned in Hong Kong is the higher sulfur content grade.

The 10 ppm fuel is much more expensive, even with an exemption from sales taxes offered by Hong Kong. The EPD is currently studying the technical feasibility of using compressed or liquefied natural gas in heavy duty vehicles. It will examine the results in 2009. The EPD is also studying options to reduce air pollution from cargo handling equipment at container ports.

As government agencies assess regulatory options, several private container terminal operators are moving ahead to deploy hybrid electric rubber tire gantries (RTGs). Seventeen hybrid electric RTGs were deployed at Container Terminal 4 owned by Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) in 2008. They are the first step in a $18 million (U.S. dollars) program to equip 81 RTGs with hybrid electric drivetrains, about 70 percent of HITs total fleet. The hybrid RTGs are fitted with lithium ion batteries that provide power to help lift containers. The batteries are recharged by regenerative braking energy generated during the lowering of containers and from a generator powered by the onboard diesel engine.

In October 2008, Modern Terminals Ltd. signed a contract with Kawatoyo Electric Company Ltd., the sole agent for Yaskawa Group Port Crane System, to convert 44 RTGs with hybrid electric drivetrains at its terminal in Hong Kong by mid-2009. The drivetrains are being developed by Yaskawa Electric Corporation. They use ultracapacitors as the onboard energy storage technology.

The Modern Terminals Da Chen Bay Terminal 1 at Shenzhen already uses hybrid electric RTGs. The terminal is the first to convert its entire RTG fleet to hybrid electric drivetrains. Modern Terminals associate company, Taicang International Container Terminal, is currently converting its fleet at the Port of Shanghai to hybrid electric RTGs.

In other programs at Shenzhen, Shekou Container Terminal (SCT) is installing auxiliary generators onboard its entire fleet of 78 RTGs by the end of 2010 at the port of Shekou. It is also installing rail mounted gantry cranes (RMGs), which are quieter, last longer, and are 20 percent more efficient than conventional RTGs. By the end of 2008, SCT plans to install 16 RMGs. Another initiative is studying the use of using hybrid technology or LNG yard tractors.

Yantian International Container Terminals (YICT) is the largest port in Shenzhen, handling 10 million TEUs in 2007. YICT has converted 12 of its 200 RTGs from conventional to hybrid electric drivetrains, and plans to switch another 60. The RTGs are equipped with supercapacitors, which are yielding a 25 percent energy savings by capturing and reusing energy released as containers are lowered to the ground. Anticipating shoreside power, YICT has started installing infrastructure works and is studying power converter technology before implementing this new technology. It is also promoting rail transportation from the port on its dedicated rail line. Each train can transport 50 containers in one journey, making them more efficient and cleaner than trucks.