• Industry’s top choice of fuel cheap but deadly

    The national capital region (NCR) may be one of the most polluted regions in the country but many industries located here are still running on an extremely polluting fuel-furnace oil.

    A substantially cheaper alternative to natural gas and diesel, FO, as it is called in industrial terminology , is marginally better than bitumen in quality .It emits substantially higher particulate matter (PM) and secondary sulphate particles, said scientists.

    The widespread use of FO came to light only recently after the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) investigated its use in NCR and submitted a report to SC. The report also highlighted the use of pet coke, another high sulphur fuel, in NCR.

    Industries in Ghaziabad’s Sahibabad and Loni Road industrial areas admit that they use FO despite knowing how harmful it is for environment. A large steel company TOI visited in Sahibabad, for instance, runs its generator on FO and natural gas.

    “It’s a 30:70 ratio, with FO making 70% of the fuel. It’s cheap and serves the purpose. I don’t think the Supreme Court can ban it because industries are a powerful lobby . Also, what will oil refineries do with the FO they generate?“ said its head of purchase. FO is priced around Rs 25 per litre, compared to Rs 56.76 for diesel, Rs 69.3 for petrol and Rs 24.5 per standard cubic meter for piped natural gas.

    About three months ago, the price of FO fell to Rs 15 per litre due to the dip in crude oil prices. “The prices fell seven times in the past year or so. It just makes economic sense for industries to opt for a cheaper fuel. Of course, it’s way more polluting and you can tell from the chimney smoke whether a factory is using FO. It’s usually black or blue smoke. That’s why we invested in piped gas supply ,“ said a senior representative from another steel company’s hot rolling and heat treatment division.

    TOI also found several dyeing, paper recycling and glass industries using FO.

    A representative from Indo Petro, a dealer, said, “Many industries in Delhi too use it illegally because it’s cheaper.“

    Anant Bhargav, director of IFP Petro Products, said, “The government can have Bharat Standard (BS)-type norms for industrial fuel. Some industries even use very toxic tyre oil made from used rubber and ty res. Major dealers supply these fuels.“

    Around 30 forging industries use FO in Ghaziabad, added an Industrial Area Manufacturer’s Association member.

    Mukesh Sharma, scientist at IIT Kanpur and author of Comprehensive Study on Air Pollution and Green House Gases (GHGs) in Delhi -the latest source apportionment study , said, “The PM emissions from FO are substantially higher than other liquid or gaseous fuels. Since the sulphur content in FO and pet coke is high, a large amount of sulphur dioxide (SO2) is released that converts into fine sulphate particles in the atmosphere.“

    The sulphur content in FO is 15,000 to 20,000 ppm and about 70,000 ppm in pet coke compared to around 50 ppm in diesel. Scientists recommend that high sulphur fuel should only be used in cement industries because the calcium oxides generated in these factories can neutralise the sulphur emission.

    During a recent hearing in SC, a lawyer representing the Centre sought time to respond to EPCA ‘s submission. The apex court has given the Centre four weeks to examine whether pet coke and FO, if used as industrial fuel, is harmful.

    “In case the government comes to the conclusion that its use is indeed harmful, it may consider issuing appropriate directions in terms of Section 3(2)(v) of the Air Act,“ the order said.

    According to EPCA ‘s report, a big manufacturer of solar panels, a glass company and steel companies are using FO. Apart from PSUs, a private company also supplies FO. Cody Latimer Authentic Jersey

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