In Conversation
March 2014

In Conversation with: Clarence Woo

In our first edition of "In Conversation" for 2014, we start with Clarence Woo, Executive Director of ACFA, whom we would like to thank for sharing with us his experiences over the past 11 years in ACFA as well as his thoughts and views for the future.

Area of Expertise

Clarence Woo has been involved in the oil, gas and petrochemical industry for the last 20 years. He started his career with Mobil Oil Singapore and has experienced numerous responsibilities within Mobil Oil, including technical services, which provided technical expertise and training in the field of lubricants, fuels and LPG.

Later, Woo worked at Ethyl Corporation as Senior Area Manager and managed petroleum additive sales to various countries in the Asia Pacific. In addition, Woo served as Product Manager, Fuel Additives, where he helped manage fuel additive sales and fuel additive developments in Asia.

Currently, Woo is the Executive Director of the Asian Clean Fuels Association, which supports governments and encourages industries to pursue the use of cleaner fuels for a cleaner environment through the attributes of sound science, cost effectiveness and sustainability.

Significant Achievements

In China, Clarence Woo was successfully involved in a China Phase 3 (Euro 3 equivalent) Gasoline Research Programme in collaboration with the China State Environment Protection Agency and Tsinghua University in Beijing. Woo also assisted the government in looking into post-implementation programmes and Phase 4 and 5 (Euro 4 and 5 equivalent) specifications.

A partnership was developed through an association with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to encourage the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Environment (CAMRE) within the Arab League to issue a resolution to totally phase out the use of lead by 2008 and work towards reducing sulphur in fuels in the region.

Q: ACFA (Asian Clean Fuels Association) has been around since 2000. What does ACFA really do, and what were some of the most challenging issues that ACFA encountered over the past 14 years?

Clarence Woo: ACFA is a non-profit organisation that works closely with fuel policymakers, regulators and stakeholders in the fuel industry to promote and advance the use of cleaner transport fuels based on principles of sound science, cost efficiency and sustainability of the environment.

When ACFA was first started in 2000, China had just started to look at phasing out lead from its transportation fuels pool. At that time too, most countries in Southeast Asia were not even at Euro 2 standards or above with their fuel emission standard programs. Although the economies of these countries were picking up, fuel specifications were not looked into or given emphasis. Countries were too focused on improving their economies, so air quality issues were pushed onto the back burner. Many Middle East countries were also still using leaded gasoline.

ACFA started from a low base. The greatest challenge that we faced then was to create awareness to improve fuel quality standards and to push for legislation that promotes better air quality and a better living environment. In the early stages of the association, time was spent on awareness programmes and educating policy makers to help them understand the benefits and the urgency of attaining cleaner fuel standards.

Just looking at the current state of affairs, China and many Asian countries are facing severe environmental problems. The governments of these countries are under huge pressure from environmental groups and the larger public to solve these problems as quickly as they can. Had the governments started earlier, much of these problems would have been abated earlier.

Q: You've been with ACFA for the last 11 years, starting out as the Communications Director in 2003 and stepping up as the Executive Director in 2004. What do you consider as ACFA's greatest achievements through your leadership?

Clarence Woo: My experiences with ACFA have been challenging but definitely rewarding. I am pleased to share with you that ACFA has contributed to clean fuel developments in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Our collaboration with UNEP has yielded a lead phase-out for most parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

Furthermore, we have seen fuel quality improvements in Asia moving up to Euro 5 equivalent standards. China is leading the movement with its recent announcements of adopting Euro 5 equivalent standards by 2017, and other Southeast Asian countries are aspiring to move up to that standard as well.

Q: How has ACFA changed since 2000, and which direction will ACFA be moving towards in the future? What are the challenges that ACFA will be facing?

Clarence Woo: During ACFA's initiation period between 2000 until 2010, we saw achievements in getting our awareness programme up and running. Our education programme has also led to a cleaner fuel roadmap across different regions.

ACFA is looking at the next 10 years to set up higher targets in fulfilling cleaner fuel roadmaps of fuel quality harmonisation, as well as to attain at least Euro 4 equivalent standards in the entire Asian and Middle East regions. We are pleased to have partners like Clean Air Asia (CAA) and the UN Environment Programme, along with our stakeholders from the auto and oil industry, and of course, government bodies to have an aligned strategy and timeline to meeting these objectives.

Q: Why should Asian countries be concerned about issues relating to clean fuels? Are the Asian countries lagging far behind their Western counterparts in adopting cleaner fuels and better fuel specification standards?

Clarence Woo: Please allow me to throw this question back at you. Do you feel concerned about air pollution? Do you also know that 90% of pollution in the cities is caused by vehicle emissions?

The fact is that if pollution exists in your city – especially with high levels of PM2.5, NOX, sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxides, etc. – the implementation of cleaner fuels will lead to an immediate solution.

Asian countries definitely still lag far behind developed countries like those in the European Union. The smog problems in Beijing, New Delhi, and Jakarta – just to name a few – are very worrying as they pose serious health concerns to the populations in these cities.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles to clean fuels in Asia and the Middle East?

Clarence Woo: The biggest issues are political will, as well as, incoherent clean fuel strategies and roadmaps. It is also equally important to have the support of the oil and auto industry, as they are the key stakeholders in the overall scheme of things. Another challenge to consider is time. It takes time to develop and execute clean fuel roadmaps, at least three to five years.

Q: How do you view the latest country-specific transportation fuel developments in countries like China, Malaysia and Indonesia?

Clarence Woo: China has done well in terms of moving from using leaded gasoline before 2000 to the recent announcement it made to adopt Euro 5 standards. The clean fuel developments in China have been very rapid, even compared to its western counterparts.

For Indonesia, it is not moving rapidly enough for a country that will potentially become the world's largest importer of gasoline. ACFA, together with other stakeholders, needs to contribute to and support the clean fuel initiatives in Indonesia.

In Malaysia, fuels are subsidised. This can impede any progression on fuel standards and quality. Although Malaysia is attempting to improve fuel quality to Euro 4M standards, certain fuel quality parameters like benzene, a known carcinogen, need to be further reduced.

Q: The emission standards in Asian countries remain extremely fragmented, unlike in Europe and the United States. What does ACFA intend to do about this in order to align standards?

Clarence Woo: This is definitely a good question. We work closely with Clean Air Asia, assisting to harmonise fuel quality and emission standards across the region. We know that this is an ambitious project, but it definitely warrants attention.

Q: In comparison to Europe, the Asian gasoline specifications show a wide spread of different octane requirements, many at lower levels compared to European standards. What is the implication of this?

Clarence Woo: Studies and test data have shown that fuel consumption can be further reduced with higher octane. We have seen evidence from the test data of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) that improving octane from 90 to 95 RON can improve fuel economy by 2 to 10%, depending on the engine type. The fuel economy improvement is even better with the new higher-compression-ratio turbocharged engines.

The cost of increasing octane from 92 to 95 RON is no more than US 2 cents per litre on average. Now, if you compare this to the price of gasoline, it is almost negligible. Ultimately, the improvement of fuel economy through increasing octane is a worthwhile investment.

Q: If you can sum up ACFA's key messages, what would those be?

Clarence Woo: "Clean fuels for clean air." This is ACFA's motto, and we abide by it. Clean fuels do not only improve air quality, they also contribute to a sustainable, cleaner environment. Ultimately, these investments reduce costs to human health, improve productivity, such as less engine maintenance, and contribute to a better quality of life.

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