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Motor vehicle emissions in a green economy


…Motor vehicle emissions can trigger lung diseases such as aggravated asthma, pneumonia, cancer, acidic rain, ozone formation and global climate change”

THE focus of my article this week is on the dangerous levels of localised motor vehicle emissions at the country’s major public transport hub – Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminal. On daily basis, dozens of both big buses and mini-buses enter, park and exit this noisy public facility. The congestion at this facility is simply unacceptable.
With slow moving diesel engines entering and exiting at a snail’s pace, carbon and sulphide emissions are high enough to raise eyebrows from public health and environmental advocates.
This is compounded by the high number of buses on idling mode; also discharging emissions in a localised environment.
Motor vehicles are a leading source of air pollution which contribute to the formation of ground level ozone, which can trigger health problems such as aggravated asthma, reduced lung capacity, and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia and bronchitis.
Scientific research has repeatedly shown that the health effects of air pollution are serious as one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution.
Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain.
Air pollution over burdens our health care system with substantial medical costs. Research has shown that people with existing heart or lung diesels, asthma or other respiratory problems, children and the elderly are most sensitive to the health effects of motor vehicle emissions.
While emissions from industries are discharged at a significant height, emissions from motor vehicles are discharged near the ground thereby making human beings more vulnerable to motor vehicle emissions especially in a traffic jam and confined areas such as Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminal where there is traffic jam and buses left on idling mode for long periods.
Having established a new Ministry of Green Economy and Environment, it will be impossible to avoid discussing the impact of the energy sector on Zambia’s guest for a Green Economy.
Cross cutting issues from different ministries will come to the fore. Ministries such as Energy, Transport and Logistics, Mines and Minerals Development, Commerce, Trade and Industry, Local Government and Rural Development, SME Development, Lands and Natural Resources will have to work double shift to support the client ministry – Green Economy and Environment.
This cluster of ministries may also be joined by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice because of a plethora of changes to different pieces of legislature and of course Ministry of Finance for obvious reasons.
From the energy sector, one of the first output to support its client ministry could be to implement a clean fuels mandate for Zambia. By far, this is the easiest compared to other expectations such has how to manage the K5 billion charcoal supply chain.
The charcoal and firewood subsector is part of the energy sector which supports the majority of households. Implementing a clean fuels mandate will be a matter of revisiting the fuel standards. This will call to duty the Zambia Compulsory Standards Agency (ZCSA).
A clean fuels mandate reduces harmful motor vehicle emissions. Motor vehicle emissions are a major contributor to air pollution which aggravates health and environmental challenges as stated.
In addition, maintaining the integrity of the fuel supply chain will be critical. Zambia had a very compromised fuel supply chain until in the recent years when major interventions started taking shape.
A compromised fuel supply chain leads to fuel adulteration and dumping of substandard fuel on the market thereby compounding emissions from strange adulterants.
Because of the foregoing, many countries have adopted a clean fuels policy not just for the purpose of protecting the environment but also human health and assist lower vehicle maintenance costs which are aggravated by high sulphur diesel.
Sulphur dioxide is acidic in nature. It attacks engine oil thereby reducing its useful life span and also corrodes other parts of the vehicle components among other challenges.
Pushing a clean fuels mandate requires considerable political will and activism on the part of environmentalists to push for a review of standards and enforcement. With so many chest and lung complications in our midst, we need to become concerned with vehicle emissions and fuel quality on the market.
Clean fuels have many benefits beyond protecting human health and environment. Below are some benefits:
 Cost benefits
A technical and possible cost implication on engine life and service interval is the formation of sulphuric acid when the diesel that is used contains high levels of sulphur. This acidic compound influences the degradation of engine oil and contributes to corrosion.
This means that vehicles using high sulphur diesel could suffer shorter life spans compared with those using low sulphur diesel.
High sulphur in petrol and diesel is linked to a host of undesirable effects, including increased emissions and poisoning of advanced exhaust after treatment device such as three way catalysts and diesel particulate filters.
The service interval is also potentially longer in vehicles using low sulphur diesel than those using high sulphur diesel
 Fuel economy
Although fuel economy can be affected by a host of different factors such as tyre pressure, driving style, barometric conditions just to mention but a few, low sulphur diesel has increased capacity to keep injectors and fuel systems clean. These factors contribute to better fuel economy.
Sulphur, a natural part of the crude oil from which diesel fuel is derived is one of the key causes of soot in diesel engines. Soot is the main culprit of diesel engine’s noxious black exhaust fumes and is among prime contributors to air pollution.
A clean fuels mandate, maintaining the fuel supply chain integrity and enforcing motor vehicle pollutions programmes will be among key outputs from the Ministry of Energy to support the country’s quest for a low carbon economy.
When this is in place, Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminal will be a healthier facility. *Johnstone Chikwanda is an energy expert and a Fellow of the Engineering Institute of Zambia, a PhD candidate at Johnson University, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

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