Over the past couple of decades, China has implemented multiple vehicle emissions regulations. However, efforts to curb air pollution have been offset by substantial growth in the vehicle population and urban air quality has suffered as a result. China’s vehicle fleet is approaching 300 million cars, with annual sales of 25 million. Electric vehicles accounted for only 1.3 million sales in 2020.
China’s GB-VI A is the most recent emissions standard in the East Asian country. The new standard was introduced at the beginning of 2021, following a six-month delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and is expected to deliver significant improvements in traffic-related pollution. Hot on the heels of this most recent regulation, GB-VI B, the 2nd phase of China’s GB-VI, is expected to launch in 2023.
The gold standard in emissions regulation
Many countries around the world have followed Europe’s lead, adopting Euro emissions standards, or closely mimicking their regulations. China GB-VI A legislation is similar to Euro 6. European emissions standards have been seen as the gold standard in emissions regulation, comprehensively covering the main pollutants. Since the introduction of real driving emissions (RDE) testing, Euro standards have demonstrated a large positive impact on tailpipe emissions.
When China’s GB-VI B is fully implemented, it will be the most stringent emissions legislation in the world, which lowers limits for existing pollutants and new pollutants. In many cases, limits are more stringent than Euro 6. In some instances, limits are half of those set in Euro 6. As with legislation in most parts of the world, the key pollutants are nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates. The new standard introduces particulate number limits as well as limits for particulate mass.
China VIB will also be technology neutral. The limit on particulates applies to both port fuel-injected engines and direct-injected engines whereas in Europe it only applies to direct-injected engines. Countries that have previously looked towards Europe for guidance could potentially look to China’s legislation moving forward.
The introduction of RDE testing brings China up to date with the latest legislation in Europe. RDE involves road testing with portable emissions measurement systems (PEMS) so that pollutants are measured under the most realistic conditions possible. The range of temperatures and altitudes within China VIB are greater than Euro 6. A combination of tight limits and wide RDE conditions means compliance will be more difficult. Particulate filters will be required on virtually all cars, even hybrids.
Emissions durability requirements are another noteworthy component of China VIB regulations. OEMs will need to prove emissions will stay low for up to 200,000 kilometres (in passenger cars), significantly longer than the 160,000 kilometres specified in Euro 6. While much of the focus seems to be on passenger car restrictions, China VIB also includes heavy-duty legislation and addresses concerns around exhaust emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from diesel engines. NOx is of particular concern at lower temperatures.
Limits that are half of the already arduous Euro 6 standards are going to be a real challenge. Though, Howard notes that there are cars in Europe that already achieve emissions performance that is a fraction of the limit. Consistent enforcement has not been a strong point in China’s emissions legislation in the past, although that is changing. Sophisticated emissions technology, including remote sensing stations, and data from the vehicle’s on-board diagnostic system being monitored regularly for compliance purposes rather than just to diagnose problems.
In Europe, the consultation period for Euro-7 fuels standards was completed earlier this year. Limits and tests are expected to be finalised by the end of 2021, before the specification goes through the legislative process in the European Commission. Euro 7 is expected to be fully implemented in the 2026 to 2028 timeframe. It is anticipated that Euro 7 will incorporate an expansion of RDE conditions and will extend emissions durability. In China, thoughts have not yet turned to the next phase of emissions standards beyond China VIB.
Future emissions standards may go beyond the tailpipe
For now, emissions legislation is purely focused on what comes out of the tailpipe. Future standards may include emissions from other parts of the vehicle, such as brakes and tyres. In particulate filter-equipped vehicles more particulates are coming from brakes and tyres than from the tailpipe. It is yet to be determined whether Euro 7 will incorporate emissions beyond the tailpipe — which are much more difficult to quantify. Total lifecycle emissions “from well to wheel” appear to be the way forward for future regulations, as a lot of CO2 and other emissions are embedded in the manufacturing of electric vehicles, especially in the battery pack.