High potential to further cut pollution from power plants

Bulgaria and Romania together, contribute almost 40 per cent to the total SO2 emissions for the EU27. Here, a chimney at the Insalnita lignite plant in Romania. Photo: flickr.com/cee bankwatch network/cc by-nc-sa

Emissions of the main air pollutants – sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and dust – could be significantly further reduced if the emission levels associated with the best available techniques were to be achieved.

Emissions of sulphur dioxide from large combustion plants (LCP) could have been up to 94 per cent lower in 2009, those of nitrogen oxides 69 per cent lower, and those of dust 79 per cent lower, if the best available emission abatement techniques had been applied to all plants, according to a recent report by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Interestingly, the report also estimates that emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and dust could have been 47, 5 and 29 per cent lower respectively, if the facilities had met the emission limits set in the 2001 LCP Directive.

The new EEA study presents an updated assessment of the hypothetical emission reduction potential for LCPs for the year 2009. It uses the latest available emission and fuel-use data for 2009 reported by member states under the LCP Directive. The study may be viewed as a “what-if” study that aims to quantify the potential emission reductions that are achievable by implementing the techniques identified as best available techniques for the sector.

Best available techniques (BATs) were defined as the techniques and associated emission levels (AELs) as described in the LCP best available techniques reference document (BREF). It should be noted that this BREF document was elaborated between 2000 and 2003, i.e. more than ten years ago. It is currently being revised and a new LCP BREF is to be adopted next year.

The emissions reported by member states for nearly 1600 selected electricity- or heat-generating LCPs across the EU27 were compared to calculated emissions derived from the theoretical application of:

  • the lower end (most stringent) of the BAT-associated emission levels from the LCP BREF;
  • the emission limit values in the 2010 Industrial Emissions Directive; and,
  • the emission limit values in the 2001 LCP Directive.

A small number of large-scale coal plants and plants co-combusting coal with other fuels dominate the reported emissions for all three pollutants. Just 50 plants (i.e. 3 per cent of the 1595 plants addressed in the report) contribute half of the NOx emissions, with 454 plants (28 per cent) responsible for 90 per cent of the NOx emissions.

The situation is even more striking for SO2 with only twenty plants (1 per cent) responsible for half of the total emissions, and 165 plants (10 per cent) contributing 90 per cent of the SO2 emissions.
For dust, just 21 plants (1 per cent) are responsible for half and 175 plants (11 per cent) for 90 per cent of the total reported dust emissions.

At the member state level, Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom report the highest NOx emissions from LCPs. However, emissions from Germany are already largely consistent with the IED emission limit values (ELVs), while some scope exists to reduce emissions further to the levels of the lower BAT-AELs values. Greece, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom have the largest absolute differences in terms of tonnes of NOx from 2009 emissions to the IED ELVs.

Regarding SO2, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland and Romania have the highest reported emissions from LCPs, and together account for the largest difference between 2009 emission levels and the IED emission limit values. In particular, Bulgaria and Romania together, contribute almost 40 per cent to the total SO2 emissions for the EU27.

The same four member states (i.e. Bulgaria, Greece, Poland and Romania) also reported the highest dust emissions from LCPs, significantly above emission levels that would be consistent with the IED ELVs.

The results clearly indicate that EU27 emissions of the air pollutants NOx, SO2 and dust from the LCPs included in the scope of the study could be significantly lower if all plants operating in 2009 were to meet the emission limit values set out in the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). If emission levels associated with the best available techniques described in the large combustion plants BREF were to be achieved, emissions would come down even more (see Table).

Such reductions in emissions would obviously deliver substantial benefits in terms of improvements to human health and the environment. A recent assessment from the EEA showed that the estimated damage costs to health and the environment caused by air pollution (excluding carbon dioxide) from the energy-generating sector in 2009 amounted to €26–71 billion per year.

Christer Ågren

Source: Reducing air pollution from electricity-generating large combustion plants in the European Union – An assessment of potential emission reductions of NOx, SO2 and dust. EEA Technical report No 9/2013.

EU legislation for existing LCPs

Large combustion plants (LCPs) are defined in the 2001 LCP directive as those plants having a rated thermal input of 50MW or greater. Emissions of SO2, NOx and dust are regulated by the directive.

LCPs are also regulated under the 1996 Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) directive, which may lead to stricter and/or additional obligations on the plants. In particular, the IPPC directive requires installations to apply the best available techniques (BAT). In order to define BAT at the EU level, there are BAT reference documents (BREF), which serve as guidance for setting permits.

The current LCP BREF was developed between 2000 and 2003 and adopted by the European Commission in 2006. It describes the BAT as well as the range of emission levels achievable by applying BAT – the Associated Emission Levels (AEL), with the lower end of AEL being the most stringent and the upper end the least stringent.

More recently, the IPPC and LCP directives were superseded by the 2010 Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which regulates the emissions from LCPs by requiring the application of BAT and the BAT-AELs set out in BAT conclusions, which have a legal effect, as well as by setting mandatory minimum emission limit values (ELVs) for SO2, NOx and dust. These ELVs will apply for existing LCPs as from 2016, although some plants will be allowed longer transitional time, up to 2020.

The LCP BREF is currently being revised, with the aim of establishing BAT conclusions to be adopted in 2014.


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