Developing a world-class technology pathways program in China

Vehicle emissions controls are critical for safeguarding climate and air quality and fostering automotive technology development. Over the past ten years, China has begun the process of building a world-class vehicle emissions control program. Since the late 1990s, China has ratcheted down emissions limits for the main vehicle categories, generally following patterns established by European regulations. Led by major cities and regions such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong, it has significantly curbed conventional pollutants in the face of massive growth in vehicle stock and activity. But even more stringent policy measures will be required to mitigate the health and climate effects of projected growth in the vehicle market.

This paper surveys the range of technology and policy options available to China, drawing on history and experience in Europe, Japan, and the United States. A thorough discussion of the engine and emission control technologies that have diffused into the light- and heavy-duty markets in Europe over the past decade provides the necessary context for the tasks ahead for Chinese industry and government.

The pathways for light-duty conventional gasoline vehicles are straightforward, and include improvements in combustion and three-way catalyst configuration. Gasoline direction injection (GDI) has gained market share in recent years because of its superior fuel efficiency performance, but will require new particulate control strategies. Light-duty diesels will require advancements in exhaust gas recirculation as well as the increased presence of NOx and PM aftertreatment devices as emissions standards are tightened. Continued progress in the heavy-duty sector will depend on large-scale transition from mechanically to electronically controlled engines and development of a national infrastructure to support vehicles using selective catalytic reduction (SCR) for NOx control. Although SCR presents new challenges for environmental regulators, policymakers in China will have the benefit of experience in Beijing and Shanghai as well as in the European Union, United States, and Japan that already have SCR-equipped vehicles on the road. For both light- and heavy-duty diesel vehicles, low-sulfur fuel is critical to controlling particulate emissions, and lack of universal availability has been a barrier to the on-schedule implementation of China IV.

China’s 12th Five-Year Plan assigns high priority to environmental protection, energy efficiency improvement, and clean energy development. In the past decade China has established a solid foundation. By cultivating innovative policy ideas and adapting best practices from around the world to the Chinese context, it can continue to build a regulatory system to match its position as a leading world vehicle market.