22 Apr 2019

Going Green in 2019: Your Guide to Meeting Emissions Requirements Around the World

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Imagine the following dilemma: your plant is running behind its production schedule. You need to work overtime to meet orders, or you’ll be pushed far into the red. Jobs are at risk. 

The trouble is, by firing on all cylinders, you also risk shooting up your emissions. You’ve already exceeded the limit twice this year; once more and you’ll face a huge fine or forced output reduction. You could even get shut down.

Do you take the risk?

Or do you take the third option: figure out a plan, fast, for reducing your emissions by streamlining operations, improving your fuel strategy, and boosting productivity without falling foul of the law?

What Are Emissions Standards?

Emissions standards are legal requirements set by governments to control how much air pollution can be released into the atmosphere by any given organization, facility, machine, vehicle or so on, over a specific period of time. 

The goal is to improve air quality, prevent environmental damage and protect people from airborne substances that could harm their health.

Anything that potentially causes air pollution will be subject to some form of regulations. However, different sets of emission standards are applied depending on whether you’re talking about smaller items of equipment like diesel generators, or industrial sources like power plants.

Cars and other fuel-powered vehicles are, of course, also subject to wide-ranging emissions standards around the world, but this article focuses on industrial applications.

Who Makes the Rules?

Regulations vary widely between region, country and even state. 

Let’s take a brief look at the main bodies that set emissions standards in the following areas:

USA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the main regulator for air quality issues, setting standards that must be met in all states. 

California, however, has its own regulator, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which sets more stringent emissions standards for the Sunshine State. Other states can choose to adopt CARB rules if they wish. 

In addition, individual states need to create specific laws for their area to make sure they’re able to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in their area. 

These standards limit the amount of:

  • Sulfur dioxide that can be released into the air over both a one-hour and a three-hour period
  • Particulate matter in a 24-hour period
  • Fine particulate matter annually
  • Carbon monoxide in a one-hour and eight-hour period
  • Ozone in a one-hour and eight-hour period
  • Nitrogen dioxide annually
  • Lead over three months

EU

Most non-vehicle-related emissions standards within the European Union come from the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), set by the European Parliament and the Council on Industrial Emissions. 

The IED focuses on using “Best Available Techniques” to tackle harmful industrial emissions. There are around 50,000 facilities, factories and plants in member states that undertake the activities covered by the directive. To get (and keep) a permit, they have to stay in line with the rules.

These rules aren’t set in stone, as each different country in the union has some flexibility to set their own laws. That said, all facilities have to be inspected every 1-3 years and the public must be able to access emissions reports and take part in permit applications. 

Refineries that hope to sell their product within the EU are also bound by the Euro 5 / Euro 6 regulations, which aim to limit greenhouse gas emissions. These cover the performance of vehicles and engines and demand high-tech upgrades for lower-emitting diesel and gasoline.

China

Initially slow to adopt and implement stringent emissions standards, China’s Ministry of Environmental Production is now working hard to catch up. 

As well as rolling out European-style China 5 & China 6 regulations for the transport sector, the country forced 28 of its most industrial cities to reduce concentrations of dangerous airborne particles called PM2.5 by up to 25% by March 2018. Inspections were ramped up and, at the end of 2017, all 28 cities had met their initial targets.

This was just the beginning. China recently announced additional “special emissions restrictions” for industrial enterprises in the north of the country. 

The regulations affect industrial boilers and facilities that deal with steel, chemicals, petrochemicals, thermal power, non-ferrous metals like aluminum, and cement. These will now need to dramatically reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds. 

Coking chemical plants also need to comply, but have until late 2019 to complete their renovations.

What Happens If You Break the Rules?

Penalties differ depending on where you are, which rules you break and how. For example, a U.S. district absolutely cannot produce more than 0.15 μg/m³ of lead in a three-month period, whereas certain other emissions are averaged over 3 years. In some cases, there is a daily cap that a plant cannot exceed more than once a year.

One-off breaches typically lead to hefty fines. However, if your facility is already over the limit for, say, a 12-month period and it’s only six months into the year, the penalty could be even worse. You may be instructed to limit production or shut down operations entirely for the rest of the period so that you can’t keep polluting the air.

These punishments have serious financial and other business consequences for companies that fall foul of emissions standards. Not only will fines take a chunk of your profits, a forced slowdown in productivity means you may not be able to fulfil orders, will likely lose customers pretty quickly and may have to let employees go - or even close your business permanently.

In China, companies that fail to meet emissions standards by the relevant deadlines will also face fines, output limitations or even a total shutdown. Regulators are currently developing a nationwide, 24/7 monitoring system that will track emissions in real time, meaning that companies will not be able to get away with breaking the rules, even for an hour. They’re also working with police and courts to take legal action against repeat offenders.

Meanwhile, in the EU, facilities can lose their permits if regular inspections show that they keep breaking pollution rules. What’s more, by law, the public has a say in whether they get permits in the first place and can access freely available emissions reports. If you’re operating in these areas and aren’t doing everything you can to assure and convince local people that you have their health and best interests in mind, their lack of support could become a major headache for you, further down the line.

Even if you don’t have manufacturing or production operations in a particular area, you need to make sure that the products you sell there are in line with national and local regulations. If the fuel you use or the engines you make don’t meet emission standards, you’ve lost a whole potential market in the process.

Not making every effort to go as green as possible simply isn’t an option anymore. It’s not just bad for the environment, it’s bad business sense, too.

What Can You Do to Reduce Your Emissions?

Cutting your industrial emissions is largely about becoming more efficient and streamlined. The good news is that these methods typically mean you’re using less fuel or electricity and putting less pressure on your equipment - all of which saves you money in the process.

Audit your facility thoroughly to assess your energy efficiency, whether you’re using the cleanest-burning, lowest emission fuel or renewable energy source, whether you’re using and recycling materials as best you can, and whether you could implement a more effective heat-and-power combination. 

Firstly, run a full inspection of your equipment and processes. Is it all working as well as it should? Are there any leaks? Do you have any old machines that drag down productivity while gobbling up fuel and spitting out nasty substances into the air? 

If so, you really need to replace or properly maintain your kit. If you don’t want to pay for a full refurbishment or you’re worried about the associated downtime, you can bring in top-of-the-range, energy-efficient temporary equipment and utilities to get things operating at their best.

If you work in the oil & gas sector, you also need to find less wasteful alternatives to flaring , such as cooling, condensing and recapturing natural gas so that it doesn’t need to be burned off. You’ll also need to upgrade pneumatic pumps to limit emissions.

For power stations and facilities that use generators, you can reduce your acidic emissions by switching from diesel-fueled units to cleaner-burning natural gas.

There are a broad range of technologies to remove sulfur from fuel before or while it is burned, including coal scrubbing, oil desulfurization, installing pressurized fluidized bed combustors (FBC) into boilers and adopting an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, which uses air and steam to pressurize coal into gas before burning it for electricity. Post-combustion sulfur controls include Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD), which scrubs waste gases with chemical absorbents like limestone to remove sulfur dioxide.

To reduce nitrogen output, you can try using nitrogen oxide burners; the most advanced have been shown to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 30%. By fitting equipment to your plant that treats the flue gases, you can cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 80-90%.

Finally, are all work and production areas well-insulated against the cold and well-ventilated for clean air? 

Simple changes could help you to control the indoor temperature and environmental conditions without powering up more heating and cooling equipment. If you have particular seasonal demands, an efficient solution is to find smart ways to seal off the affected area and bringing in temporary utilities to target just this area.

Final Thoughts

Whatever steps you take, it makes sense to work with a top rental company to design and test a streamlined temporary solution before you commit to a permanent one. 

If you’re worried you’re at risk of tipping over emissions caps, choose a vendor that can help you monitor equipment performance and emissions 24/7. That way, you know exactly how things are going, can adapt accordingly, and won’t be stung by any nasty surprises - or fines.

Going green isn’t solely a matter of conscience. For businesses in 2019, it’s a matter of survival. 

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