Intelligent solutions for air quality

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Source: Koelnmesse

International Trade Fair for Waste Management and Environmental Technology presents technologies and processes for the challenges of national and international air pollution control

Acid rain, the death of forests and fishes, a hole in the ozone layer in the stratosphere above the North and South Poles, and an increased risk of skin cancer, mutations, global warming and climate change: Certain materials simply don’t belong in the air, at least not when they occur in concentrations that are too high and have the fatal tendency to form dangerous combinations with their environment. When that happens, they represent a serious threat for not only flora, fauna and the atmosphere of our planet but also for human beings and their health. Keeping them in check requires strong and persistent political will and the capacity for skilful international negotiation. Above all, it requires the advanced technological ability to contain the pollutants before they can do damage. There will be opportunities to get acquainted with this expertise at the forthcoming Entsorga-Enteco — International Trade Fair for Waste Management and Environmental Technology (Cologne, 24th to 27th October 2006), where the exhibiting companies of the Air Quality Control & Emissions Protection product segment will provide an insight into the latest technologies. In addition, the supporting programme, which includes a German Engineering Federation (VDMA) presentation on “The Reduction of Fine Particulate Emissions from Industrial Processes” and a conference titled “Waste Treatment in Germany — a Model for Europe? Climate Protection and Air Quality Control with Advanced Systems,” will contribute to a valuable dialogue between exhibitors and visitors.

According to United Nations estimates, about 800,000 people die prematurely each year from the results of health problems like lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases caused by high concentrations of pollutants in the air of urban population centres. The most dangerous pollutants for human health are surface ozone and fine particulate matter. According to estimates of the Commission of the European Communities, these pollutants together cause a reduction of the statistical life expectancy of about nine months or, equivalently, over 370,000 premature deaths each year in the 25 member countries. The cost of this damage is up to €600 billion annually.

Ozone forms as a result of the reaction of volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) under the influence of solar radiation. Fine particulate matter can enter the air directly, for example through auto exhaust, industrial processes or discharged air from heating facilities. The fine particles with aerodynamic dimensions of 10 micrometers (µm) or even only 2.5 µm — more commonly referred to by the abbreviations PM10 or PM2.5 (PM = particulate matter) — form as secondary particles but also in the atmosphere, generally through chemical reactions of gaseous substances. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), they are thus transformation products of the nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted primarily by traffic and industry and of the sulphur dioxide (SO2) resulting from the combustion of fuels containing sulphur.

And in fact these two substances — plus ammonia (NH3) — are what brought about the first international air quality control treaty. Spread across wide expanses of the upper layers of the troposphere (above approximately 200 metres), they lead to acidification (SO2 / NOx / NH3) and nutrient enrichment (NOx / NH3) in freshwater lakes and soils. In the late 1960s, the lakes of Scandinavia and their fish stocks became the first to suffer from the phenomenon of acid rain. But the sources for the pollutant emissions lay in countries from Western, Central and Eastern Europe. It took about ten years of negotiation before the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution was signed in 1979 by 32 governments and the European Community. About 50 countries have now ratified the Convention.

The declaration of intent of the Convention, which calls for limiting the emission of pollutants, was put in concrete terms in the following years through several protocol agreements. The upshot of all these efforts was the Multicomponent Protocol, which came into force in May 2005. There are national maximum permissible quantities for each of the four pollutants responsible for acidification, eutrophication and ozone smog. For Germany, for instance, the following annual permissible amounts are in effect: 550,000 tonnes each for SO2 and NH3; 1,081,000 tonnes for NOx and 995,000 tonnes for VOC.

At the same time, the European Community has its own statutory regulations for air pollution control, such as a directive on national emissions ceilings for certain air pollutants (NEC for short) of 2001, which is in some parts even more stringent in its requirements than the Multicomponent Protocol. The European Community Commission is currently working on the optimization of its air pollution control policy. To this end, it presented a thematic strategy on air pollution control in September 2005 as well as a recommendation for a directive concerning air quality and clean air in Europe, in which old directives are updated and brought together in one instrument.

The objective of the thematic strategy is to increase the protection of people and ecosystems from air pollutants. By the year 2020, for example, the adverse effects of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and surface ozone are to be reduced by 75 and 60 per cent respectively. To this end, the emissions will be markedly reduced compared with the levels of the year 2000: by 82 per cent in the case of SO2, by 60 per cent for NOx, by 51 per cent for VOC, by 27 per cent for ammonia and by 59 per cent for PM2.5.

In addition, each EU member country has its own legal framework for air pollution control. In Germany, for instance, it is laid out by the Federal Emission Protection Law (BImSchG), which took effect in its first version as early as 1971. This extensively regulates all harmful environmental effects from air contaminants, noise, vibrations and similar occurrences. The law has now been put into concrete terms by over 30 executive orders. The Technical Guideline (TA) on Air, in its revised form of 2002, is almost more important still. It gives detailed, concrete form to the emissions and immissions requirements that must be observed by the responsible enforcement authorities in the approval of industrial and commercial facilities.

Initial reports of success
The results of these national and international efforts are impressive. Between 1980 and 2002, SO2 emissions across Europe fell by approximately 70 per cent, although there were significant regional differences. The largest rates of reduction, approximately 90 per cent, were achieved by Germany, Austria, Switzerland and northern Europe. The reduction of SO2 emissions was lower in the south-eastern part of Europe. In all, about five million tonnes of SO2 entered the air in 2003, at least in the EU countries party to the monitoring programme of the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (EMEP). By way of comparison, about 100 million tonnes of SO2 are currently emitted worldwide, according to the United Nations. About a fifth of that originates from Europe as a whole, including Russia.

The average reductions in nitrogen oxides (down by 25 per cent; Germany approximately 50 per cent) and ammonia (down by 20 per cent) over the same period are also significant. Total emissions for the EU EMEP (European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme) countries were about eight million tonnes of NOx and approximately three million tonnes of NH3. The decline in emissions of volatile organic contaminants (VOC) is of a similar scale — about 30 per cent (Germany approximately 50 per cent). Total EU emissions were seven million tonnes. The emissions of fine particulate matter (PM10) are also on the decline. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA, Copenhagen), they fell by almost 40 per cent on average in the EU between 1990 and 2002, and by over 60 per cent in Germany. The EU EMEP countries account for about 1.4 million tonnes of PM10.

Likewise, it is only through international agreements that it is possible to combat the warming of the earth’s atmosphere caused by man. Such agreement was reached in 1992 in Rio, for example, where a Framework Convention on Climate Change was negotiated during a global summit of the United Nations. It was given concrete form five years later in Kyoto. In the Kyoto Protocol, the industrial countries undertake legally binding obligations to reduce the emissions of the six most important greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), dinitrogen oxide (N2O), partially halogenated fluorohydrocarbons (HFCs), perfluorinated hydrocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) — by at least five per cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

Individual countries took on differing reduction obligations. Germany, for example, committed itself to a reduction target of 21 per cent in the framework of an EU burden-sharing agreement. According to current data, a reduction of 18.5 per cent had already been achieved by 2003. The EU as a whole is obliged to reduce greenhouse gases by eight per cent. On average, however, only 1.7 per cent was achieved in 2003. And globally, greenhouse gas emissions have actually increased by more than three billion tonnes.

Yet far more drastic emissions reductions are needed if the target of keeping global warming under two per cent is to be reached. For its area, the EU considers it necessary to achieve gradual reductions of 15 to 30 per cent by 2020 and 60 to 80 per cent by 2050. At the Global Climate Conference in Montreal at the end of 2005, agreement was at least reached to enter into negotiations for further reduction obligations on the part of the industrial countries for the period after 2012.

Long list of pollution control measures
The measures needed for successful air pollution prevention are diverse. They include, for example, the simple prohibition of the production and use of especially dangerous substances. This was the approach taken by an international agreement (Montreal Protocol of 1987) with regard to chlorofluorohydrocarbons (CFCs), halogenated hydrocarbons, bromides and carbon tetrachlorides, the substances responsible for the creation of the ozone layer over the Antarctic.

Similarly, emissions reductions are also expected from national subsidy and incentive programmes for the most important sources of pollutants, such as industry, the energy sector, households and transport. The best example of this is the climate protection programme of Germany. One incentive programme of a special type is the option of trading pollutant emission rights, which was agreed upon in the Kyoto Protocol and implemented in the EU in 2005. The objective is to achieve the CO2 reduction requirements with minimal overall economic costs.

The principle is as follows: The operators of certain facilities, such as power stations and industrial plants, receive free certificates. These entitle the holder to the emission of a precisely defined quantity of CO2 that is based on an emissions reduction target established for the trading period. If his or her plants cause more emissions, the operator must purchase additional certificates. Conversely, a reduction in emissions enables the operator to sell the surplus certificates and thereby make a profit.

But all the subsidy and incentive programmes are useless without the corresponding technologies that make it possible to effectively hold down pollutant emissions in the first place. There are now more than 50 processes worldwide for the desulphurisation of exhausts, for example. In Germany, the techniques applied are primarily wet processes based on the use of lime or limestone. The important techniques of denoxing exhaust gas include selective non-catalytic reduction (SNCR), electron beam processes, simultaneous dry sorption and absorption reduction. The process of selective catalytic reduction (SCR technique) enjoys the greatest popularity, however. In addition to these large-scale pollution control facilities, there are also a number of other separation and filter techniques. Dusts and aerosols, for example, are kept in check by mass force separators, fibre and fabric filters, electric filters or wet separators.

In 2002, Europe’s industry spent a total (investments and ongoing outlays) of about €5.7 billion on lowering emissions at its plants. Of that amount, about €3 billion was spent by German companies. According to the Frankfurt-based VDMA, the conceptual sponsor of Entsorga-Enteco, about 150 companies in Germany offer state-of-the-art air pollution control technology. Collectively, turnover in the sector currently amounts to about €1 billion per year. Over half of that results from orders from abroad. After France and the USA, China is becoming one of the most important buyers. Taiwan, Japan and Russia are also becoming increasingly significant.

The forthcoming Entsorga-Enteco 2006 — International Trade Fair for Waste Management and Environmental Technology (Cologne, 24th to 27th October 2006) will offer an excellent insight into the latest technological developments for controlling air pollution.

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