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SCMP Letters: HK biofuels company makes case for biofuels advantage

Anthony Dixon, CEO of ASB Biodiesel, writes in to SCMP to counter the lack of consideration given to biodiesel by Hong Kong official officials:

There are some encouraging signs that the government is beginning to recognise our local waste-to-biodiesel industry as an excellent already-working model of what it hopes to achieve more broadly for recycling and food waste in Hong Kong.

But I must disagree with the Environmental Protection Department’s ongoing assertion that the introduction of biodiesel will have little impact on roadside emissions (“Biodiesel maker pushes product use in market”, October 28). Surely, given the World Health Organisation’s recent pronouncement that air pollution is a leading cause of cancer, no government can afford to ignore any positive incremental impact.


Difficulties of establishing biofuels exposes poor thinking of HK policymakers

In 2011, Eric Ng of the SCMP wrote an article about a biofuels plant in Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate that had to suspend construction, likely due to a lack of funding. At the same time, the article shed light on the difficulties faced by current biofuels producers in Hong Kong: stiff competition on the waste oil market, import levies for feedstocks, lack of mandatory legislation to promote biofuels use, and so on.

One of the main advantages of using biofuels is that it achieves more than some 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union has already mandated a policy of fuel blending: at least 5.75 per cent of all fuel sold has to be biofuel, with the percentage to increase further in the future, and other countries in Asia also have policies encouraging biofuel consumption. Hong Kong lags behind in such initiatives, and it is not difficulty to see why: Eric Ng, in a recent update on the issue, reports official Mok Wai-chuen of the Environmental Protection Department as saying in 2007 that “biodiesel did little to improve roadside air quality”, backed up by 2002 reports from the US National Biodiesel Board and the US Environmental Protection Agency that “suggested the use of biodiesel would result in a relatively modest reduction in roadside emissions”. The irrelevance of such an analysis – blending 5% biofuel into Euro V standard diesel containing 0.001% sulphur could never have meant reducing roadside pollutants – escapes officials; much of the roadside pollutants are carried by prevailing winds from shipping lanes and industries across the border.

If public policy on biofuels is to be decided on this factor alone, then the real benefits of biofuel would be ignored: once the biofuel industry is established, it can process the city’s waste and convert it to fuel; as mentioned before, biofuels hugely reduce greenhouse gas emissions; more importantly, by helping biofuel operations purchase waste cooking oil, the practice of smuggling waste cooking oil across the border to be converted into ‘gutter oil’ and re-used as cooking oil can be stemmed – which would happen to be quite the moral thing to do, given that such usage of recycled oil is carcinogenic and harmful to human health when ingested.

Click here to read the coverage from SCMP:

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.

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.

Return Of Diesel Passenger Cars

Dealer sees big problem

Anita Lam and Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Feb 23, 2009

Environmentalists and academics cautiously welcomed the likely return of diesel passenger cars, but a luxury-car dealer said it would be fortunate if his company could find a model that matched the new emissions standard by the end of this year.

Chong Got, managing director of Audi’s distributor, Premium Motors, said Audi’s factory in Europe would produce 20 diesel engine models this year meeting the Euro-V diesel emissions standard. However, they expected only one could meet the emissions standard of a Euro-V petrol car.

“It is not impossible to impose a petrol car’s emission standards on a diesel car. The problem is whether the manufacturers would want to alter the engines for you when their efforts mean only a boost in sales of several hundred more vehicles.”

In September, Volvo said it had created a Euro-V diesel engine as clean as Euro-VI. Bluetec, a green technology for luxury performance vehicles introduced by Mercedes-Benz, meets even the most stringent Californian diesel emissions standard, but the configurations do not match the requirements in Hong Kong.

Crown Motors, the dealer for Daihatsu, Lexus and Toyota, is also searching for qualified models, with a sales manager saying the company would try Europe if it failed to find anything in Japan.

Edward Lau Che-feng, director of Friends of the Earth, said it was time the public and government adopted an open mind towards diesel cars with the latest emissions-control technology. However, the government should increase the phasing out of outdated diesel vehicles at the same time. “Let us be open-minded … we might fine-tune our strategy, giving more weight to a car’s fuel efficiency and climate-friendliness without significantly compromising air quality,” he said.

Dennis Leung Yiu-cheung, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Hong Kong, believed that the most advanced diesel cars would have minimal additional impact on air quality. “There should be little problem, as most private cars are not used as frequently as diesel buses and trucks,” he said.

Drive To Get Fuel-Efficient Diesel Cars Back On Roads

Motor traders in global hunt for model to match standards

Anita Lam and Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Feb 23, 2009

Diesel-driven cars may soon return to the streets of Hong Kong – and in a much cleaner and environment-friendly form, after being phased out in favour of petrol engines over a decade ago, motor traders say.

They have started a global hunt for the right diesel model after the environmental watchdog introduced what they called an “improved flexibility in vehicle emissions standards” last month.

The new standard has led to some enthusiasm among the traders badly hit by the economic downturn as they expect diesel vehicles to be popular among cost-conscious drivers who will benefit from diesel prices lower than petrol.

The traders said diesel engines were also a third more fuel-efficient than petrol ones, emitted less carbon dioxide, were more durable and could generate greater power.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) recently rejected suggestions from the Hong Kong Motor Traders Association that Euro V emissions standards be adopted for diesel cars to facilitate imports, as diesel standards still lagged behind those for petrol cars.

But the department has since dropped its insistence that imported diesel cars meet the latest Californian standards and associated testing procedures – adopted in Hong Kong in 2006 – which motor traders have said were “virtually unattainable”.

And it has said it is also prepared to accept diesel cars which meet or surpass Euro V emissions standards for petrol cars. The same applies to diesel cars which meet the Japanese emissions standard for 2009.

The department has become more flexible in its requirements because the Euro V petrol car standards, with tightened curbs on nitrogen oxide emissions and new limits on particulate matter, have become broadly equivalent to Californian standards.

“It is still a very difficult task for us to find a diesel car that matches the standard of a petrol car, but there is a chance now at least that we can find something as we are now talking about configurations of European and Japanese vehicles, not the American ones which are totally different from ours,” Michael Lee, chairman of the Hong Kong Motor Traders Association, said.

Diesel engines have in the past been unwelcome because of their pollution potential – smoky emissions with high levels of particulate matter known as a major health risk.

Diesel engines also generated high levels of smog-inducing nitrogen oxides.

To discourage their use, the government adopted the most stringent Californian standards from 1998 and now imposes vehicle licence fees on diesel vehicles up to 37 per cent higher than on petrol ones.

But Hong Kong Automobile Association vice-president James Kong Yat-hung said the lower running cost of diesel cars would be attractive as the economy worsened. “It’s not only that diesel is cheaper than petrol, but diesel engines are also about 30 per cent more energy-efficient and durable than petrol engines,” he said.

Diesel fuel costs HK$8.07 a litre, which is 38 per cent cheaper than petrol. Since late 2007, the government has also cut tax on diesel by half to 56 cents a litre.

The EPD has said it would consider offering a tax concession on clean-running diesel cars – similar to that now offered to high-achieving petrol cars for outstanding environmental performance.

The petrol-car concession is a 30 per cent cut in first-registration tax, or up to HK$50,000, if the vehicle emits half the emissions allowed under Euro IV standards and is 40 per cent more fuel-efficient than other cars of the same weight.

Failure to Dump Polluting Vehicles

Tax-break plan fails to put more green cars on the road

Few take up cost-saving scheme to dump polluting vehicles

Daniel Sin – Updated on Feb 22, 2009 – SCMP

Tax breaks offered to buyers of environmentally friendly vehicles in an effort to improve air quality have failed, Environmental Protection Department figures show.

In fact, the value of tax discounts given under one scheme is just 15 per cent of what the government forecast when it was launched in April last year.

That scheme allows buyers of commercial vehicles to save between 30 and 100 per cent of first registration tax if they bought various classes of goods vehicles, taxis, light buses or non-franchised buses that meet the Euro V emissions standards.

Just 196 vehicles have been registered under the scheme, representing tax forgone by the government of HK$4 million, as opposed to the HK$26 million annual budget for the programme.

There are more than 150,000 commercial vehicles registered in the city.

It was the third such scheme put in place since Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen promised to reduce emissions in his October 2006 policy address.

The first, which began in April 2007, offered cash grants of between HK$17,000 and HK$173,000 to people who replaced their old commercial vehicles with new, more fuel-efficient ones.

Of the HK$3.2 billion committed to that initiative, just HK$451 million has been granted for 10,763 applications. There were 74,367 vehicles eligible for that grant.

The second scheme targeted petrol-powered private cars. It offered a 30 per cent reduction in first registration tax, up to HK$50,000, if people bought environmentally friendly cars.

With 420,729 private cars on the roads, just 6,763 applications have been approved. The cost of the scheme was about HK$160 million.

Even the government was not interested in its own green tax-break scheme, with just 600 environmentally friendly vehicles among its fleet of 5,236.

Friends of the Earth environmental affairs officer Angus Wong Chung-yin said the schemes were failing because they offered only “carrots” and no “sticks”.

As a result, there was nothing to encourage vehicle owners to scrap their polluting vehicles.

“That explains why the response has been low,” he said.

On the commercial vehicle replacement scheme, Mr Wong said that although owners were encouraged to choose low-emission and fuel-efficient models, there was no requirement to take the old ones off the road.

So while newer and cleaner vehicles were hitting the road, their old, smoke-belching predecessors were going into the second-hand market, remaining on the road and continuing to pollute.

An Environment Bureau spokeswoman tried to put a positive spin on the figures, noting that the response to the private car initiative had been encouraging.

“These environment-friendly petrol private cars account for 11 per cent of all newly registered private cars since the introduction of the scheme,” she said.

She blamed the limited availability of Euro V emission-standard commercial vehicles for the low response to the third scheme.

Mr Wong said the government should set a deadline for the phasing out of pre-Euro and Euro I vehicles, and designate low-emission zones where heavily polluting vehicles would be denied access.

“To deal with private cars, the government may require [aged] private cars to be checked twice a year rather than once a year,” he said. “The licence fees of [aged] cars should be increased.”