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Regulatory and research developments at the 5th China In-Vehicle Air Quality Summit

Thursday, 7 November 2019 at 4:29:PM

On 24 and 25 October, around 150 attendees attended the 5th China In-Vehicle Air Quality Summit, held this year in Shanghai.

Attending this conference is an essential part of my calendar – and the same is true for an increasing number of people from the automotive industry worldwide. Representatives were present from automotive OEMs, tier 1 & 2 suppliers, raw material manufacturers, filtration and HVAC specialists, as well as analytical instrument suppliers such as myself.

Global VIAQ audience

Although the focus of the summit is on developments in VIAQ within China, the audience is global, with attendees from Europe, North America and the Far East wanting to get an up-to-date understanding of the Chinese regulatory scene.

This is especially the case given that plans are in hand to add to the ISO 12219 series of harmonised methods for VIAQ, and the fact that China is not represented on the relevant committee (ISO/TC 146 SC 6/WG 13). As a member of this committee myself, it was therefore especially interesting this year to hear first-hand about the latest regulatory developments in China.

Delays in implementing GB/T 27630

The summit was opened by Professor Hu Bin of the Beijing Municipal Institute of Labour Protection, who is one of the authors of the HJ/T 400 sampling and analysis method that is specified by the Chinese government for VIAQ. The topic was the much-anticipated government perspective on the GB/T 27630 regulation, which would make HJ/T 400 compulsory. (Read our application note on 'The development of standard methods relating to vehicle interior air quality (VIAQ) and how to comply with them')

Rumours had been circulating that the reorganisation of the Chinese government agencies – which would see the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) replaced by a Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) – would mean another delay on the expected July 2020 implementation date, and Professor Hu confirmed that this was indeed the case.

Professor Hu Bin outlining the Chinese Government’s stance on the proposed regulation GB/T 27630.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the remit of MEE does not include vehicle interiors, meaning that GB/T 27630 does not currently have an organisation dedicated to it. However, the message was that the delay is only temporary, and that release is just a matter of time.

This development does not come as much of a surprise, but it is a little disappointing for the large number of manufacturers worldwide who have spent many years preparing for this regulation. On the same topic, it is worth watching out for the outcome of the next meeting of the UN World Forum on Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, who in 2013 began a move to resolve the differences between ISO 12219-1 and HJ/T 400 through a consensus-based approach.

VIAQ odour traceability

The conference then moved on to talk about analytical methods, and there was an interesting talk by Dr Wang Lei, from China Automotive Technology and Research Center (CATARC) – a state-owned enterprise carrying out R&D for the automotive industry.

Dr Wang focused on identifying systems that are capable of reliably identifying analytes in the highly complex profiles encountered in VIAQ monitoring. With the well-known dislike of Chinese consumers for odorous compounds in car interiors, this is not just a case of identifying well-known regulated pollutants, but also pinpointing odorous species, often at much lower levels.

As well as describing e-nose systems that could address this issue, Dr Wang highlighted the potential of advanced chromatographic techniques such as two-dimensional gas chromatography (GC×GC) to deal with the problem of analyte co-elution in complex samples – a point that I was able to elaborate on in my own keynote presentation.

Comprehensive methods for analysing vehicle interior air

In my talk, I described how GC×GC, in conjunction with time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOF MS), is coming to be viewed by analysts in many fields as the most powerful technique for identifying odorous compounds in complex mixtures of VOCs and SVOCs.

I was particularly keen to point out the advantages of GC×GC–TOF MS for VIAQ analysis – namely, a reduction in analyte mis-identifications using innovations such as Tandem Ionisation®, a lowered risk of over-reporting concentrations, and separation of co-eluting peaks. The last two points stem from the increased ‘separation space’ offered by this comprehensive technique, which is now moving into the mainstream, thanks to improvements in hardware and software usability.

Another important method I touched on is on-line sampling, which enables samples to be taken directly from within a vehicle (or from a bag or chamber). In particular, I highlighted an advance in this technique that is unique in enabling the sampling and analysis of compounds ranging from formaldehyde to naphthalene on a single system. This approach eliminates the time and money involved in running an additional HPLC method for volatile aldehydes such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

During my presentation, I highlighted how VIAQ methods have evolved in recent decades.

Panel session

As part of the summit, I had also been invited by the organisers to chair the panel session, which featured the following experts:

  • Anders Löfvendahl, an expert on cabin air quality at Volvo Cars
  • Daniel Hagström, CEO at Blueair Cabin Air
  • Zhong Guang Liang, a materials development engineer at BAIC
  • Dr Roland Freudenmann, Global Director of Laboratories at Continental

The topics for discussion were agreed beforehand, and one of the themes we agreed to highlight is the growing interest from OEMs in broadening the strategies for tackling poor VIAQ. As such, we aimed for a balance between matters relating to organic airborne volatiles, and more general strategies for air purification.

On this latter point, there is much interest in using advanced filtration and purification systems to remove a wide range of pollutants, including CO2, particulate matter, NOx and SOx, as well as VOCs and SVOCs. This is a useful complement to controlling emissions from materials, because it allows external pollution as well as volatiles from car trim to be addressed.

Another topic discussed was the problems that arise in making emission measurements, and a general sentiment was the lack of validation from some labs. Fortunately, though, this is easily tackled by implementing validation strategies, and Markes gave webinar on exactly this topic in November 2019.

During the panel session, Anders Löfvendahl, Daniel Hagström, Zhong Guang Liang and Dr Roland Freudenmann joined me (centre) in discussing analytical methods and strategies for air purification.

Interest in thermal desorption

These developments are no doubt exciting, but underpinning many VIAQ analytical methods is trap-based preconcentration using thermal desorption. It was therefore appropriate that we showcased the latest TD technology on our booth, which included our automated TD100-xr system and the Micro-Chamber/Thermal Extractor™ for routine screening.

My colleague from our Shanghai office, Aijun Xu, describes the operation of the Micro-Chamber/Thermal Extractor on the Markes International booth.

In conclusion

To sum up, this year’s China In-Vehicle Air Quality Summit once again provided an unmissable forum for discussing the latest developments, and the essential role that China is playing in the global VIAQ scene.

It was particularly interesting to see a growing trend towards incorporating air purification into VIAQ management strategies. With harmonised regulations in place for assessing VIAQ quality, and with constant pressure to develop low-emitting materials, the prospects for eliminating odours and pollutants from vehicle interiors remain very positive.

Markes International gratefully acknowledges ECV for permission to republish photographs of the conference.

Caroline Widdowson


Caroline Widdowson is the Market Development Manager at Markes International. She completed her Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry at Cardiff University in 2004, and during her time at Markes has also achieved an MBA. Caroline runs a team of application specialists covering fields from environmental air, water and soil, to chemical weapons and forensics. Her primary area of expertise is sampling and analysing chemical emissions from materials used in indoor and in-vehicle environments, as well as the corresponding regulations.. Caroline participates in many standard and regulatory committees (CEN, ISO, ASTM, BSI), as well as consulting for national Chinese and Japanese government committees. Currently she is part of the drafting committee for ISO 16000-6, the most widely used analytical standard for VOCs and SVOCs released into indoor and in-vehicle environments.

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