News reports have put the number of deaths last week in the heat wave sweeping parts of India at more than 500.
The number sounds alarming but is most likely an underestimate. Research shows that India is underreporting heat mortality, which in turn is inhibiting adaptive policies like early warning systems and better public health preparedness.
For one, the government counts only death by heat stroke and heat exhaustion as heat wave deaths. The narrow definition does not account for the way “heat exposure stresses underlying physiological systems”, a study on heat mortality in Ahmedabad said. Heat exposure exacerbates respiratory diseases and renal failure that might not result in same-day deaths but could show up with a time lag of a few days.
The study found that mortality rates in the city of Ahmedabad were 43% higher in May 2010 when the city experienced a heat wave as compared to the same days in 2009 and 2011. An excess of 1,344 deaths occurred in May 2010, relative to the average for the years before and after.
The researchers accessed the day-wise death counts from Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. Since the cause of the deaths was not documented by officials, it could be argued that the excess deaths in May 2010 may not necessarily be related to the heat. However, the researchers checked the government's epidemic surveillance system to rule out any outbreaks that could have contributed to an increase in mortality rates in 2010 – which implies that, all things the same, more people die in conditions of extreme heat.
The bad news is that heat waves are likely to intensify in the future, according to climate change researchers. Like the rest of the world, over the last century, India has turned hotter, with temperatures rising in the range of 0.8 to 1°C, with an increasing number of hot days.
"The heat waves are projected to be more intense, have longer durations and occur at a higher frequency and earlier in the year," said a research paper published in April 2015. The paper projects future heat waves in India based on multiple climate models. It finds that large parts of southern India and the East and West coasts, which are presently unaffected by severe heat waves, could be severely affected after 2070. This could lead to increased mortality.
The researchers draw attention to the fact that the Indian government does not consider heat waves as a serious risk to human health and heat hazards are not counted among the priorities of its disaster management plan.
"Our results suggest the necessity of adaptation policies to address the adverse effects of heat wave hazards," the paper states. "Although there are limitations in the present approach, our results are the first step in alerting policy makers to plan responses to more intense and persistent heat waves."
Making transportation more sustainable even with fuel-based automobiles
These innovations can reduce the pollution caused by vehicles.
According to the WHO’s Ambient Air Pollution Database released in 2016, ten of the twenty most polluted cities in the world are in India, with Gwalior and Ahmedabad occupying the second and third positions. Pollution levels are usually expressed in the levels of particulate matter (PM) in the air. This refers to microscopic matter that is a mixture of smoke, metals, chemicals and dust suspended in the atmosphere that can affect human health. Particulate matter is easily inhaled, and can cause allergies and diseases such as asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Indian cities have some of the highest levels of PM10 (particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter) and PM2.5 particles (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter). The finer the particulate matter, the deeper into your lungs it can penetrate causing more adverse effects. According to WHO, the safe limits for PM2.5 is 10 micrograms per cubic meter.
Emissions resulting from transportation is regarded as one of the major contributors to pollution levels, especially particulate matter. A study conducted by the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the Indian Institute of Science estimated that the transport sector constitutes 32% of Delhi’s emissions. It makes up 43% of Chennai’s emissions, and around 17% of Mumbai’s emissions.
Controlling emissions is a major task for cities and auto companies. The Indian government, to this end, has set emission standards for automobiles called the Bharat Stage emission standard, which mirrors European standards. This emission standard was first instituted in 1991 and has been regularly updated to follow European developments with a time lag of about 5 years. Bharat Stage IV emission norms have been the standard in 2010 in 13 major cities. To tackle air pollution that has intensified since then, the Indian government announced that Bharat Stage V norms would be skipped completely, and Stage VI norms would be adopted directly in 2020.
But sustainability in transport requires not only finding techniques to reduce the emissions from public and private transport but also developing components that are environment friendly. Car and auto component manufacturers have begun optimising products to be gentler on the environment and require lesser resources to manufacture, operate and maintain.
There are two important aspects of reducing emissions. The first is designing vehicles to consume less fuel. The second is making the emissions cleaner by reducing the toxic elements.
In auto exteriors, the focus is on developing light-weight but strong composite materials to replace metal. A McKinsey study estimates that plastic and carbon fibre can reduce weight by about 20% and 50% respectively. A lighter body reduces the engine effort and results in better fuel economy. Additionally, fuel efficiency can be increased by reducing the need for air conditioning which puts additional load on the vehicle engine thereby increasing fuel consumption. Automotive coatings (paints) and sheets provide better insulation, keep the vehicle cool and reduce the use of air conditioning.
Most emissions are the result of inefficient engines. Perhaps the most significant innovations in making automobiles and mass transport systems more eco-friendly are being done in the engine. Innovations include products like fuel additives, which improve engine performance, resist corrosion and reduce fuel consumption while offering a great driving experience, and catalytic converters that reduce toxic emissions by converting them to less harmful output such as carbon dioxide, Nitrogen and water. Some of these catalytic converters are now capable of eliminating over 90 percent of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.
All of these are significant measures to bring the negative impacts of vehicular pollution under control. With over 2 million vehicles being produced in India in 2015 alone and the moving to BS VI emission standards, constant innovation is imperative.
Beyond this, in commercial as well as passenger vehicles, companies are innovating with components and processes to enable higher resource efficiency. Long-lasting paint coatings, made of eco-friendly materials that need to be refreshed less often are being developed. Companies are also innovating with an integrated coating process that enables carmakers to cut out an entire step of coating without compromising the colour result or the properties of the coating, saving time, materials and energy. Efforts are being made to make the interiors more sustainable. Parts like the instrument panel, dashboard, door side panels, seats, and locks can all be created with material like polyurethane plastic that is not only comfortable, durable and safe but also easily recyclable. Manufacturers are increasingly adopting polyurethane plastic like BASF’s Elastollan® for these very reasons.
From pioneering the development of catalytic converters in 1975 to innovating with integrated process technology for coatings, BASF has always been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to making transport solutions more sustainable. The company has already developed the technology to handle the move of emissions standards from BS IV to BS VI.
For the future, given the expected rise in the adoption of electric cars—an estimated 5~8 percent of car production is expected to be pure electric or plug-in electric vehicles by 2020—BASF is also developing materials that enable electric car batteries to last longer and achieve higher energy density, making electronic mobility more feasible. To learn more about how BASF is making transport more sustainable, see here.
Watch the video to see how automotive designers experimented with cutting edge materials from BASF to create an innovative concept car.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.