US Energy Secretary selects research projects to cut mercury emissions from power stations

The United States Secretary of Energy announced on 18 June that it has selected six research projects to receive funding to enable them to develop technologies which will curb mercury emissions from coal-fired power stations, at a fraction of the cost of current systems.

Currently, there is no one pollution control system that reduces mercury emissions uniformly in all types of coal-fired power plant, and effectiveness can range from 90% to virtually zero, according to the Department of Energy. The new projects will receive a total of nearly $8 million from the Federal Government, but in turn will contribute nearly $2.3 million in cost-sharing.

President Bush’s National Energy Plan (see related story) calls for mandatory reductions in mercury emissions from power plants, and in response, the Department of Energy is setting targets of a 50-70% cut by 2005, and a 90% cut by 2010. However, if utilities were only to use today’s technology in order to reach these targets, as much as $7 billion could be added to customers’ bills each year, says the Department of Energy.

“The cutting-edge projects we are announcing today provide a dual benefit – they can help safeguard the health of Americans while ensuring that we can continue to use our nation’s abundant supplies of coal to generate affordable electricity,” said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. “The National Energy Policy calls for this type of technological ingenuity to meet many of the nation’s energy and environmental goals.”

The six research projects are:

  • the development of an advanced particulate collector offering the potential of removing 90% of all mercury emissions released by a coal-fired combustor, which is being produced by the Energy and Environmental Research Centre at the University of North Dakota;
  • the testing of chemical catalysts that can convert mercury into an oxidised form that can be removed by the flue gas ‘wet scrubbers’ and particulate collectors, being carried out by URS Group Inc, in Austin, Texas;
  • the adaptation of a mercury control system which is currently used on municipal waste incinerators to use on a coal-fired power plant that will remove not only mercury, but also sulphur pollutants which create visible plumes contaminating other pollution control devices, by CONSOL Inc, of Library, Pennsylvania;
  • testing the effectiveness of calcium-based chemicals, such as lime and silica lime additives, that collect mercury and oxidise it into a form that can be separated from a power plant’s flue gas, to be carried out by the Southern Research Institute, in Birmingham, Alabama;
  • the testing of a multi-pollutant removal system which uses an electrical discharge in order to convert mercury to mercury oxide, nitrogen oxides to nitric acid, and sulphur dioxide to sulphuric acid, to be carried out by Powerspan Corporation, in Durham, New Hampshire; and
  • a study by Apogee Scientific Inc of Englewood, Colorado, of the effectiveness of up to a dozen chemicals that show promise in removing more than 90% of mercury and costing 40-75% less than commercial sorbants.

Recent research has found that one in 10 US women are at risk of having babies with neurological problems due to exposure to mercury (see related story).

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