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Inventor Aims To Generate His Own Power

Dan Kadison, SCMP – Jun 21, 2009

Lucien Gambarota wants to go off the grid – the electrical grid, that is.
In the next couple of months, the local inventor will use alternative energy technologies to try to generate all of the electricity needed for his new Kowloon headquarters.

“My target is simple. I want to pay zero dollars to CLP, because if I pay zero dollars that means I am carbon free,” Mr Gambarota said.

The 51-year-old made the announcement during the opening of his new Wai Yip Street, Kwun Tong, workshop yesterday. There, in the nearly 8,000 sq ft space, he told dozens of guests that he had already been able to cut his carbon footprint by 88 per cent.

“This place here was using … 250 kilowatt-hours a year per square metre – and there is nothing wrong with that. This is the average in Hong Kong,” said Mr Gambarota, the founder of the MotorWave Group, a renewable energy company.

But he is in an environmentally friendly industry, and he wanted to do better. He and his workers added insulation, switched to compact fluorescent lighting and removed the air conditioning units. They “gutted, cancelled, deleted, changed, modified” everything they could, he said.

Now, “we are down to 40 [kilowatt-hours a year per square metre],” Mr Gambarota said to applause. The space was “releasing something like … 70 tonnes of [carbon dioxide] a year … now we release 8.2 tonnes.”

The difference translates to savings of more than HK$85,000 a year, but Mr Gambarota isn’t content with annual electricity costs of HK$12,000.

He plans to go up to the roof and install solar and wind energy equipment, including his own special brand of wind turbines, to see if he can produce all of his own electricity.
“Can we do it? I’ll tell you in two months. But we’ll be very, very close to that,” he said. “And why is it important? Because, most probably, we’ll be the first factory in the world to have such a low carbon print.”

Guests at Mr Gambarota’s workshop yesterday included Civic Party vice-chairman Albert Lai Kwong-tak; Civic Party legislators Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and Alan Leong Kah-kit; Carbon Care Asia chairman Chong Chan-yau; Alfred Sit Wing-hang, assistant director of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department; and Danny Ngai Kam-fai, vice-president of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association and a shareholder in Mr Gambarota’s company.

Mr Leong, whose Civic Party has proposed a “green New Deal” job creation plan, said he supported the inventor’s efforts. “The whole Legislative Council supports redefining our supplies and demands in a new economy,” Mr Leong said. “So I think I’m in the right place today to witness how Hong Kong industrialists, Hong Kong industries, [are] doing something towards that goal.”

Mr Lai also issued a challenge to Mr Gambarota: generate additional electricity and feed it back into the grid. “We will work together,” Mr Lai told the inventor. “We will work on the policy side, and you will work on the technology side to make sure this workshop actually produces energy and not just consumes it.”

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.

Raising The Bar

Updated on Oct 09, 2008 – SCMP

In return for receiving assistance, Hong Kong has a responsibility to return the favour. As the most economically advanced city in China, it should be a high environmental achiever. In exchange for receiving some of the natural gas the mainland desperately needs, under a new memorandum, Hong Kong should commit itself to an aggressive low-carbon programme to help meet national goals.

So far, the Tsang administration has only focused on the benefits we accrue – lower tariffs and cleaner air. Hong Kong should appreciate that, despite all Beijing’s efforts to secure energy supplies, there will still be a shortage of cleaner fuels to power development.

Since the late 1990s, China has been building a network of natural-gas arteries. Today, there are around 24,000km of pipelines; by 2010, this figure should increase to 36,000km. From now, until 2020, we will see the rapid development of China’s natural-gas industry.

Yet, the mainland will continue to have inadequate supplies. The shortfall will have to be met through imports via land pipelines from Central Asia, as well as liquefied natural gas imports from elsewhere.

Hong Kong needs to view Beijing’s willingness to give us some of its natural gas in the context of the country’s overall energy profile. Energy is a finite global commodity, and its supply and demand affect us all. Policymakers in Hong Kong need to do their best not just to secure supplies but also to conserve energy and use it efficiently.

For example, Hong Kong undoubtedly has the capacity to substantially improve the energy efficiency of buildings. It can also use demand-side tools to get the electricity companies to find innovative ways to work with customers, so that reducing consumption and improving efficiency are rewarded financially. The utilities should be allowed to earn more from energy savings, and customers can also benefit by paying less. Currently, the schemes of control have weak demand-side incentives.

The government had said it has an open-market energy policy and is paving the way for the possible opening up of the electricity market. And it will look into enhanced interconnection between the two power companies’ grids. The administration sees this as a way to promote competition in the future, as well as possibly opening up the electricity market to others.

What might this mean? Will the government consider a compulsory purchase to buy the grids, in the public interest? There may well be good reason for the power grid to be a public asset, like the airwaves. Anyone who generates power could then use the grid.

Does the government see a future in distributed power – that is, on-site, decentralised power generation that can reduce transmission loss and increase supply security? Imagine buildings generating their own power using renewable technologies, and only tapping into the grid occasionally.

A low-carbon economy will probably involve all these efforts, and more. It is time for Hong Kong to show real appreciation for Beijing’s generosity.

As the nation’s most developed city, Hong Kong should be best placed to align its regulatory, management, financial and technological capacities to define how a city can grow but emit a lot less carbon and other pollutants.

With traditional financial services in a bad state, it is also a good time to test new ideas. For example, now that projects in Hong Kong can earn carbon credits, under the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism, what advantage can be gained from that?

So, it will be disappointing if the chief executive gives us another “business as usual” policy address next week that ignores environmental needs and the consequences of climate change.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

Blue-Sky Generators

CHRISTINE LOH – Jan 17, 2008

Is there a quick fix for the polluting emissions from the tens of thousands of factories in the Pearl River Delta that are contributing to the heavy, grey-yellow smog that too often blankets the whole region? Yes, there is. One source of emissions – the one that is hardest to deal with – is the factories that have to run private generators for electricity because they cannot get enough power from the grid. This is the case for most of the factories in the region; to avoid frequent “brownouts”, they buy their own generators to provide alternative power.

Factories are notified in advance of when they will not receive power from the grid, so they know when they will need to turn on their generators. There is an overall power supply shortage in the region. This can only be fixed when the supply structure of power generation and distribution is greatly expanded.

These private generators can be very large, and can cost millions of dollars. To work properly, they need to be regularly maintained and serviced.

Factory managers also have to source fuel for the generators. Research by Civic Exchange and the University of Science and Technology in 2006 found that the quality of that fuel varies greatly. In some cases, the diesel fuel purchased was of a very low quality and burning it resulted in a much higher level of pollution than if the fuel had been relatively clean. There were also cases where the fuel bought was contaminated with other types of fuel, and even water. It seems that people who sell fuel for generators often mix fuels, to lower costs.

Some factory managers complained that, by using low-quality fuel, they had to spend more time and money maintaining the generating equipment, which was not designed to run on such contaminated, low-grade fuel.

Thus, the use of poor-quality fuel is far from a good solution. Yet, managers have no other choice, since they need to provide supplementary power for their factories.

It is not easy to estimate the total air-pollution impact from all these factories in the Delta, but no one denies that it is large. The quick fix is, of course, to supply only cleaner fuel to run the tens of thousands of chugging generators. A cleaner fuel going in means less-polluting emissions coming out. This is not a long-term substitute for expanding and upgrading Guangdong’s power supply structure, but there is a reason to consider the quick fix in the coming two years.

In November next year, Hong Kong will host the East Asian Games and, in November 2010, Guangzhou will host the much bigger 16th Asian Games. Air pollution records over the past several years tell us that the month of November has seen very high levels of pollution throughout the entire Delta region.

We are currently witnessing the urgent efforts by authorities in Beijing to do everything possible to reduce air pollution for the summer Olympics in August. There is, in fact, no time for Hong Kong and Guangzhou to waste.

A clear lesson from Beijing is that the entire neighbourhood needs to pitch in. Just as Beijing needs the co-operation of many sectors from several provinces to reduce pollution, we, too, will need all the counties in the Delta region to contribute.

A quick short-term fix would be for cleaner fuels to be supplied to the region for an extended period before, and during, the two Games. Is it conceivable for ultra-low sulphur diesel to be supplied, so that the generators, and also vehicles, will all use a much cleaner fuel? If the answer is “yes”, what kind of emissions reduction could be expected, and how much would it all cost? Are there other ideas?

The Guangdong and Hong Kong authorities should get on with exploring ideas expeditiously, otherwise there could be embarrassing consequences. It will take time to organise the supply of cleaner fuel for the region. Much more needs to be done in the long term, but a quick fix for generators is the first step.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange

Choking on China Exports

Choking on China’s Exports

In Part Three of a Four-Part Series on Hong Kong’s Air Pollution, Douglas Woodring, Associate, Civic Exchange calls our attention to low-quality and adulterated fuels from across the border which have exacerbated local air pollution problems. There are measures Hong Kong-owned manufacturing companies can take to reduce pollution across the PRD sooner, rather than later, he reports.

By most estimates, there are more than 70,000 Hong Kong owned factories in Guangdong, the world’s manufacturing engine, and our backdoor. Guangdong’s power consumption is the highest in China by a large margin (over 35 per cent more than booming Shanghai’s consumption). As the value of Guangdong’s exports continues to rise, we in Hong Kong, along with the residents of the PRD, pay the price with rapidly deteriorating living conditions, mainly in the form of air pollution and poor health.

In order to keep China’s export engine running, reliable electricity is necessary. A shortage of electricity supply in Guangdong, however, has resulted in manufacturers using non-grid power via private generators which are powered by low-quality and adulterated fuels. This has greatly exacerbated air pollution problems over the past few years, and although Hong Kong cannot regulate what happens across the border, we believe there are voluntary measures Hong Kong-owned manufacturing companies can explore (see page 4) to help reduce air pollution in the PRD.

Full story here:

Choke Before Starting

Saturday August 21 2004

While other world cities have embraced hybrid cars, Hong Kong’s government has been cautious about these low-emission vehicles, writes Peter Kammerer

The wheels of government efforts to curb Hong Kong’s air pollution turn slowly. More than 18 months after it began assessing environmentally friendly vehicles for its fleet, none have been purchased.

Some so-called hybrid cars are on the way as part of continuing trials – although they will not join the 6,700 vehicles in the government’s garages until the first few months of next year. Even then, tenders which closed recently provide for only five vehicles.

The Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works, Sarah Liao Sau-tung, traded her government-issue BMW for a petrol-electric Toyota from February to April last year as part of an initial trial. She liked it so much that she bought one for personal use.

The car’s emission performance and fuel efficiency were found ‘comparable to other good performing petrol vehicles in the market’, a statement issued last week by Dr Liao’s department concluded. A tender was opened in May to buy five hybrid cars for a pilot trial to enable an in-depth assessment of performance and suitability. Testing will begin when the cars arrive in the first quarter of next year.

‘Hybrid vehicles are a developing technology with a view to providing more environmentally friendly vehicles,’ the department statement said. ‘We are watching carefully its development.’

Concern about the contribution of vehicles’ petrol emissions to air pollution and global warming and, more recently, rising oil prices, have sparked interest in alternative types of transportation. Electric cars, initially seen as a solution, have not gained popularity because no way has been found to quickly recharge batteries, make them sufficiently light or produce the necessary power to compete with petrol-driven vehicles. Alternatives, such as hydrogen fuel cells, have similarly not taken off with motorists.

In 1997, the world’s biggest car-maker, Toyota, began marketing its first hybrid saloon, combining batteries and petrol. Its latest model, the Prius, has a reported top speed of 169km/h and can travel 100km on 4.3 litres of fuel, about twice as efficient as comparable sedans. Honda also markets models, and Ford this week unveiled in the US its Escape, the world’s first hybrid four-wheel-drive sports utility vehicle. Mercedes-Benz and Audi also have ‘green’ cars.

Despite the rapidly growing popularity of hybrids in Japan and the US, Hong Kong’s government is being cautious. Dr Liao said in January that providing incentives such as tax concessions to stimulate the market for cleaner vehicles in Hong Kong would be inappropriate. The problem, she said, was with supply.

Environmental lobbyists oppose the government’s approach, saying it is out of touch with the reality of Hong Kong’s pollution problems. They say that although the city’s 17,000 taxis have been converted to liquid petroleum gas under a tax-incentives system, other promised measures have yet to be enacted. All said, though, that hybrid cars were not the solution to clearing air pollution. Alone, they would make a tiny, possibly indiscernible, dent on the problem.

The chairman of Clear the Air, Christian Masset, said government departments approached environmental issues passively and shied away from making bold resolutions.

‘There’s a lot of talk, little action and a great deal of inconsistency,’ Mr Masset said.

Greenpeace China spokesman Martin Baker agreed. ‘The government should lead by example,’ he said. ‘It needs to identify the problem of air pollution. The public is very confused.’

Detailed information on the pollutants in Hong Kong’s air is available on the Environmental Protection Department’s website,, but no overall conclusions are drawn as to how polluting the sources are. A senior officer yesterday refused to make an assessment of the contribution of vehicle-exhaust emissions to the clouds of pollution hanging over Hong Kong this week.

Civic Exchange chief executive officer Christine Loh Kung-wai said on Thursday that government procedures meant making decisions took a long time. But when it came to getting hybrid cars, there was no need for stringent testing by departments.

She said she recently drove one in the US, from Denver to Aspen in Colorado, a long, uphill trip, and it performed like any other car.

‘There’s nothing wrong with the car and the government can send someone to test drive it elsewhere,’ Ms Loh said. ‘It’s just like an ordinary car. It can go uphill if they’re worried about that.’

But whatever the suitability of hybrid cars to Hong Kong, even large numbers would do little to improve air quality, environmental experts said. Another Environmental Protection Department senior officer, who declined to be identified, said diesel fuel-powered trucks and buses were far more of a problem to air quality than passenger vehicles.

‘Diesel vehicles do comply to very stringent standards, but there are lots of these vehicles,’ he said. ‘Even though they use ultra-low sulphur diesel, they still emit emissions.’

In urban areas, 90 per cent of roadside pollution was from vehicles, Hong Kong Polytechnic University air quality expert Hung Wing-tat said. ‘High-rise buildings block the dispersion of pollutants,’ he said.

Clear the Air said that 44 per cent of locally produced air pollution comes from vehicle emissions, 30 per cent from electricity generation and 26 per cent from other sources, such as construction sites. It said the bulk of vehicle pollution was caused by older-model diesel-powered delivery and container trucks and buses. As just 3 per cent of the 340,000 registered vehicles are privately owned, the contribution to air pollution from them is considered far less of a problem.

Nonetheless, Mr Masset said the government’s use and encouragement of hybrid cars would help. ‘We favour any measure that improves the emissions, whatever the percentage,’ he said. ‘As well, there is the message that is being sent to the public.’

Greenpeace Germany’s climate-change expert Wolfgang Lohbeck said the group and his country’s environmental protection agency did not believe hybrids were the future of ‘green’ motoring. Questions needed to be answered about battery life, the heavy subsidies Toyota was offering to make its hybrids competitive and the weight of the vehicles.

‘We are not against hybrids, but do not actively promote them as a solution,’ he said.

For now, Hong Kong people do not seem worried about high oil prices and the knock-on effect on the cost of petrol. Fuel-inefficient SUVs are growing in popularity. To July, 1,142 had been sold, compared to 1,320 for all of last year. SUVs also remain popular in the US, which is the reasoning behind Ford’s decision to produce a hybrid model. Hybrid sales in the US have been partly spurred by the US$2,000 tax breaks the government offers to purchasers. California environmentalist Gary Wolff, who owns two Priuses, said increasing numbers of Americans were environmentally aware and wanted more fuel-efficient vehicles.

‘Hybrids are catching on generally,’ Dr Wolff, an environmental engineer and principal economist at the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, in Oakland, said. ‘Some people were early adopters and have been waiting and watching and others are trying to make a statement like certain celebrities have done. But there are also a lot of people who are buying the cars because they’re functional, and they are concerned about oil prices.’

Hong Kong ‘green’ car enthusiast Eric Wong Yat-po, the chairman and chief executive officer of Richburg Motors, said that rising petrol prices would also turn Hong Kong motorists towards hybrids. Public awareness would be increased through celebrities and big corporations buying them.

But he said the government was not doing enough to encourage people to turn to environmentally friendly vehicles. ‘I’m quite disappointed with the government policy,’ Mr Wong said. ‘They should encourage vehicle importers and owners to buy more hybrids by offering tax exemptions.’

Whether such methods are adopted and draw Hong Kong people towards less-polluting cars will only be determined in coming months or years.

While hybrid cars will have only a minimal effect in clearing Hong Kong’s pollution problem, they will at least substantially lower petrol consumption for motorists.

The biggest impact of the ever-developing technology could be more far-reaching – the creation of a culture of environmental awareness.

Sulphur Success A Welcome Precedent

Victoria Button, SCMP – Saturday November 23 2002

Environmental campaigners yesterday said evidence that a cut in sulphur in fuel saved lives should spur the government to a greater sense of urgency in attacking air pollution.

Commentators welcomed a groundbreaking University of Hong Kong study showing a 1990 sulphur level cut swiftly saved 600 premature deaths a year. But green groups said more work was urgently needed across a range of areas, including cuts to respirable suspended particulates (RSP) and improved cross-border co-operation. Some suggested the government should include health costs related to pollution from vehicles when comparing the relative cost of building roads and railways.

The chairman of Clear the Air, Lincoln Chan, said the study was encouraging. ‘If it can be done with sulphur, it can be done with RSP. We should think positive. Air pollution is mass murder,’ he said.

Mr Chan urged the government to speed up the conversion of minibuses to LPG, ban idling engines in parked cars, crack down on vehicles using illegal fuel and step up cross-border anti-pollution efforts.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Jennifer Wang also urged action – including a ban on diesel vehicles – to counter respirable suspended particles. Air quality objectives in Hong Kong were less stringent than those of many cities overseas, she said.

The deputy chairman of Legco’s panel on environmental affairs, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, of The Frontier, said officials should count health costs when considering the merits of building roads.

‘Transportation is one area we could improve. The study shows that if we took more stringent measures to improve air quality then the mortality rate could be improved a lot,’ she said. Implementing smoking bans in indoor public venues also would cut health bills.

The chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange, Christine Loh Kung-wai, said it was important to note from the study that the health benefit of cutting pollution was almost immediate. ‘Benefits come quickly. We need to do everything we can to reduce pollution levels because it can help public health,’ she said.

In May, the South China Morning Post revealed that unpublished government tests found levels of fine particles called PM2.5 – a type of respirable suspended particulate – were up to four times higher in Hong Kong than a US safety limit.

American authorities set a limit on fine particles in 1997 after concluding they were more likely than coarse particles to penetrate the lungs, causing premature death and illness. The tests showed pedestrians in Des Voeux Road are exposed to about twice as much PM2.5 as those in London’s busy Marylebone Road.