The Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP) at Dehradun and Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) have developed an indigenous technology to reduce cancer-causing benzene levels in petrol.
The World Health Organization has already identified the chemical as a risk for petrol pump workers and vehicle users. Therefore, the technology is likely to get global attention, sources said.
“We are getting a few inquiries on [the] new technology,” senior IIP scientist MP Garg said.
IIP officials said the petrol supplied in India carries 1% benzene and the new technology can bring down its levels down to 0.2%. In fact, RIL has already begun using the technology at its Jamnagar refinery, which primarily exports petrol to the United States, where there are ‘tough’ guidelines on benzene levels.
As per the global standards, the presence of benzene shouldn’t exceed 0.62% to reduce health risk. However, the petroleum ministry has standardised benzene presence to 1%, which all 21 refineries are adhering too. IIP director R Vishwakarma said the benzene levels in petrol in India used to be around 5% before 2000.
Garg, who has also served as director general of Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) MP, suggested that India should meet the global marker and the refineries should adopt the technology, considering the health risks of benzene. However, he said, “Any new technology involves investment. We also understand that.”
RIL group president (research and technology) Ajit Sapre said his team approached the IIP in 2011 to know whether it had a technology to remove benzene from gasoline, popularly known as petrol. And after years of research, they were able to develop the technology.
Besides petrol, benzene is used in paint, plastic and related industries. However, petrol is a potential threat because it is a highly used fuel.
According to a World Health Organization document, “Automobile exhaust accounts for the largest source of benzene in the general environment... benzene has been measured in air inside vehicles at levels higher than those in residential air.” It further states that “human exposure to benzene has been associated with a range of acute and long-term adverse health effects and diseases, including cancer”.
The risk is manifold especially for millions of workers at petrol pumps who have direct exposure to petrol fumes. “The new vehicles have catalyst converter but [there are] still many old vehicles running on Indian roads,” Vishwakarma said.