Emissions Control: A Positive Trajectory

Politically, economically and environmentally; controlling emissions from chemical plants is a global issue. Muriel Axford unravels the red tape of increasingly stringent legislation to find out how emission reducing technology remains on a positive trajectory world over.

To focus on the task of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, increasingly stringent legislation is leading to a crackdown on operators of industrial plants and encouraging a renewed commitment to investing in emissions abatement technology.

January 2011 saw the EU's Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) enter into law. The directive brings together seven pieces of legislation including the directives on large combustions plants and integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC). The legislation applies to 52,000 industrial units across the EU. Member states are required to implement the directive into national legislation by January 2013.

"Adopting the new directive on industrial emissions is a milestone in industrial pollution control in the EU," said EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik. "It will help ensure the level of protection from industrial pollution that EU citizens deserve and it will substantially strengthen the current legal framework, further reducing air and other environmental pollution and become a driver for eco-innovation," he added.

While broadly welcomed, as would be expected, the legislation has had its share of criticism. The European Environmental Bureau said that while recognising that the legislation had brought about some improvements to 'fix weak and unclear provisions' in the current IPPC directive, there was still cause for concern.

"January 2011 saw the EU's Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) enter into law."

At the same time, Euro Chlor, which represents the European chlor-alkali industry welcomed the 'simplification and strengthening' of the IED, but added "In a balanced approach, the IED should take into account the different local conditions and the different technical characteristics of the plants and processes. This means that justified flexibility and local adaptation must be better secured."

Business as usual

The reality is that ongoing investment in emissions reduction, which ultimately leads to cost saving, is a part of everyday business for major industrial producers worldwide.

"We continually optimise our processes in order to reduce emissions. Thanks to numerous measures we have been successful in significantly reducing emissions of greenhouse gases despite a 113% increase in our product volume since 1990," says BASF's Harald Schwager, member of the BASF board. Along with greenhouse gases, the Germany-headquartered chemical producer recorded a drop in the emissions of air pollutants (NOx, non-methane volatile organic compounds, SOx, dust and NH3 of 63.5% during 2009 when compared with 2002," the company added.

We have reduced emissions of air pollutants through end-of-pipe environmental technology such as exhaust gas scrubbing plants," said Schwager. As an example, the company sites the installation of a thermoreactor at its phthalic acid plant in Ludwigshafen, Germany, which has led to a reduction in emissions of air pollutants by 8,100t since 2007, a reduction of more than 99%.

Indeed, the fall-off in emissions is backed by and IEA report 'Emissions of Air Pollutants for the World Energy Outlook 2010 Energy Scenarios'. According to the study world emissions of SO2 were about 96 million tons, with OECD countries contributing 29% of the total. Implementation of air pollution controls and changes in energy consumption patterns could lead to an 11% decrease in global emissions of SO2 by 2020, compared with 2005.

Emission reduction and energy savings

So the push to implement emission reduction technology remains on a positive trajectory. Indeed emission reduction technology and energy efficiency go hand in hand, according to Metso Corporation, a global supplier of  sustainable technology and services for mining, construction, power generation, automation, recycling, and pulp and paper industries.

"Technologies related to combustion process optimisation play a key role when modern power plants look for ways to improve energy efficiency and decrease emissions. Through the use of new technologies, it's possible to boost eco-efficiency at traditional coal-fired plants as well," says Kari Huovila, vice-president energy and process systems at Metso.

Among its many projects, Metso is replacing a chemical recovery boiler for UBE Chemicals in Thailand. The new system allows recovered chemicals to be combusted more efficiently, creating energy extraction benefits with minimal burden on the environment. The order is valued at €10m.

"Ongoing investment in emissions reduction is a part of everyday business for major industrial producers worldwide."

Bringing together the need for greater energy efficiency and meeting emissions regulations means that the market for emissions control catalysts is set to reach in excess of $7bn by 2015, according to a report from market research publisher Global Industry Analysts. 

'Emissions Control Catalysts: A Global Business Report', indicates that most growth is expected to come from the developing markets of Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, where work to adopt universally applied environmental regulations is ongoing. At the same time industries across Europe and the US are increasingly using catalysts due to the legislative emphasis on emission control for the reduction of hydrocarbons, NOx, and other harmful substances from industrial plants and car exhausts.

GHG emissions high on the agenda

But the issue of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions remains as important as ever and catalysis is an important part of the solution. The International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) is working with the IEA on developing technology roadmaps to identify ways in which the chemical sector can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The roadmaps will cover current and future technologies for catalysis, bio-energy options and energy-efficient buildings.

The ICCA's members are providing input in all areas, particularly in catalysis where there is wide expertise. The first results from the catalysis technology roadmap should be ready for the UN Climate Change Conference being held in South Africa at the end of 2011. Russel Mills, ICCA's energy and climate change leadership group vice-chairman said, "By contributing our expertise to the technology roadmaps that will help drive this transition to a lower carbon economy, and by including recommendations of the necessary policy decisions, we can make this overall process more efficient and effective."