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Emissions monitoring and detection in the hydrocarbon industry

Requirements for reducing air pollution emissions have been evolving over the past couple of decades and today are an intricate mix of limits, targets and caps.

Stephen Harrison, Linde Gas
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Article Summary
Requirements for reducing air pollution emissions have been evolving over the past couple of decades and today are an intricate mix of limits, targets and caps. In many parts of the world, industries emitting pollutants must not only comply with rigid emission limits, but also need to provide emissions data to numerous different agencies and bodies in order to comply with disparate legislative formats and reporting systems at regional, national and international level - and legislation is going to get increasingly stringent. The global community is working to improve cooperation between emitting sources, monitoring systems - and the legislation they support - in order to reduce the number of serious pollutants being released into the air, soil and water to help mitigate the negative impacts on human health and adverse affects on the environment in coming years.

What this means for industry is that more pollutants will require monitoring from a greater number of emitting sources - for example, mercury (Hg) is rapidly moving up the agenda in the European Union, the USA and Asia ahead of the legally binding United Nations EP Global Treaty on Mercury to be implemented in 2013. Advanced systems and methods will be required to measure lower and lower concentrations of pollutants as emission limits tighten. Increased accuracy will become paramount as pollutants such as nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and possibly Hg are introduced to trading markets in the EU and USA. The change will mean that once a monetary value comes into play, measurement accuracy becomes an economic target as well as an environmental one.

For those industrialised member states, including energy and emissions giant Russia, the Kyoto Protocol has already established legally binding commitments for the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) down to 1990 levels by 2012. The Protocol also established a global carbon trust incorporating market-based mechanisms which can assign concrete financial values to each tonne of GHG emission. Although countries such as Russia still lack longer-term energy strategies to enable them to participate fully, the potential to benefit financially from selling surplus emission reduction credits to the EU and other member states internationally, places even greater importance on emissions measurement and evaluation. 
In March of this year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the implementation of the first mandatory national carbon emissions reporting programme to ensure a reduction of carbon dioxide and other GHGs produced by major sources in the US. GHGs, like carbon dioxide (CO2), are produced burning fossil fuels and through industrial and biological processes. Approximately 13,000 facilities, accounting for about 85 percent to 90 percent of GHGs emitted in the US, would be covered under the proposal. The new reporting requirements will apply to suppliers of fossil fuel and industrial chemicals, as well as large direct emitters of GHGs with emissions equal to, or greater than, 25,000 metric tons per year. The direct emission sources covered under the reporting requirement would include energy intensive sectors such as cement production, metallurgy production and electricity generation, among others. The first annual report will need to be submitted to the EPA for the next calendar year (2010) in 2011.

This type of initiative is being repeated at various locations worldwide to address climate change head on - in a straightforward manner with immediate financial incentives to drive rapid and economy wide adoption of carbon reduction and market-based trading.

In 2005, the European Union published its Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution which set out clear objectives for the reduction of a number of important air pollutants. While industrial emissions have decreased over the past few years they continue to have a significant impact on the environment and need to be reduced further. The largest industrial installations still account for a considerable share of total emissions of key atmospheric pollutants: 83% for sulphur dioxide (SO2); 34% for nitrogen oxides (NOx); 43% for dust and 55% for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It was soon recognised that EU member states' projected air emissions would greatly exceed the 2020 targets of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution unless timely action was taken.

In 2007, the EU, acknowledging that existing legislation on industrial pollution was complex, sometimes inconsistent and not far-reaching enough, adopted new legislation to strengthen the provisions already in force and reduce further industrial emissions. The new directive aims to improve the uptake and implementation of Best Available Technologies (BAT), which maximise the use of technology in plant design, build and operation in order to drive down emissions. Critically, it also tightens current minimum emission limit values for large combustion plants and introduces minimum provisions on environmental inspections of installations and incentives for the development and employment of environmentally-friendly technologies.

As legislation and action plans grow in number and stringency, the importance of monitoring and quantifying emission pollutants in an accurate and transparent manner is becoming a priority. Real-time and on-line reporting systems will be the aim for most large sources. As Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator for the EPA stated, “Our efforts to confront climate change must be guided by the best possible information. Through this new reporting, we will have comprehensive and accurate data about the production of GHGs. This is a critical step toward helping us better protect our health and environment”.

Petrochemical sector emissions
The petrochemical industry harnesses a variety of processes that use fossil fuels or petroleum refinery products as feedstock. These raw materials range from crude petroleum, natural gas, refinery gas, natural gas condensate, light tops or naphta and heavier fractions such as fuel oil.

The hundreds of process units used in the production of petrochemicals are associated with emissions that impact air, land and water. Setting the petrochemical industry apart from other industrial sectors, in terms of emissions, is the wide variety of hydrocarbon compounds — many considered carcinogenic or toxic — potentially emitted by petrochemical plants.
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