DOE - Fossil Energy: Mercury Emission Control R&D

We start to readdress herein a topic that has begun to take on a little more importance lately, since, according to some recent news reports, as, for instance:

West Virginia Coal Association | Associations Petitioning for Review of the EPA's | Latest; concerning:

"(Coal) Associations Petitioning for Review of EPA's (Rules on Mercury Emissions); The West Virginia Coal Association has joined an alliance of state coal, manufacturing and energy associations, as well as state chambers of commerce in petitioning for a judicial review of recent actions by the EPA related to mercury standards at steam electrical generation facilities. The petition challenges the rule filed by the EPA on February 16 (2012)";

the US EPA has taken it upon themselves to arbitrarily inflict stringent demands on our vital Coal utilization industries concerning reductions in their emission of the element Mercury; which, as compounded in some types of chemicals, but not all, can be toxic, even in small quantities.

But, that's the EPA; although, as we note, further on, they, at one time at least, had a more constructive take on it.

To put the issue into some sort of seemingly, note the qualifier since it figures in later on, reasonable perspective, our USDOE tells us, in excerpts from the initial link in this dispatch to their report of:

"Mercury Emission Control R&D",


"In 1995, an estimated 5,500 tons of mercury was emitted globally from both natural and human sources. Coal-fired power plants in the United States contributed less than 1 percent of the total."

To repeat, and to rephrase for emphasis:

According to experts in the US Department of Energy, very nearly 100% of worldwide emissions of Mercury come from sources other than the use of Coal in the United States of America.


"Coal-fired power plants contribute only a small part of the total worldwide emissions of mercury. The estimated 48 tons of mercury they emit annually is about one-third of the total amount of mercury released annually by human activities in the United States.

Mercury emissions continued to fall in the decade of the 1990s. In 1993, U.S. yearly emissions totaled about 242 tons. By the end of the decade, emissions had declined to less than 160 tons per year.

The primary reason is that the use of mercury in batteries, fungicides and paints has been reduced. Also, municipal waste combustors, hazardous waste combustors, and medical waste incinerators have been regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The number of operating chlor-alkali plants has also declined from about 20 in 1990 to 12 in 2000, and those still operating have reduced their mercury use. Federal regulations reducing mercury emissions by 90 percent from municipal waste combustors and by 94 percent from medical waste incinerators were released in October 1995 and in August 1997. In 1998 mercury emissions from hazardous waste combustion facilities were also regulated.

(Please further note the above "human activities" qualifier. We might beat the point to death in future reports, but, Mercury emissions from "Coal-fired power plants", and nearly all other human activities,  shrivel to insignificance when compared to natural sources of Mercury emissions, as emphasized in the report:

Volcano 'Pollution' Solves Mercury Mystery; "Volcano 'Pollution Solves Mercury Mystery"; 2008; Scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have discovered how volatile metals from volcanoes end up in polar ice cores. Measurements made on just one part of the Masaya volcano in Nicaragua (show) that about 7 tonnes of natural volcanic mercury escapes into the atmosphere from this vent each year (which is) considerably more than total industrial emissions of mercury from the United Kingdom – recorded at about 5.5 tonnes in 2000."

And, that's just one vent on one volcano in one volcanically active area; with a similar point emphasized by Oregon State University, in a report accessible via:

Volcanic Gases; wherein we're told that only one of Hawaii's volcanoes, Kilauea, among a number of volcanoes on a string of volcanic islands, "produces about 270 tons of mercury each year";

That is, only one volcano in a string of volcanic islands "produces" more than five times the Mercury emitted by all United States industrial activity, to which industrial activity Mercury emissions Coal-fired power generation itself contributes only "one-third".

And, although the exact number of volcanoes on Earth that would be considered to be active is actually uncertain, with estimates concerning active vents, fumaroles, calderas, geysers and hot springs, that are all related to geothermal activity and the emission of volcanic gases on the surface of the land, most often centering around one thousand five hundred; and, with those deep undersea, in rift zones, where most volcanic activity on Earth takes place anyway, for all real purposes unknown, the amount of Mercury emitted into the environment by our essential use of Coal in the generation of truly economical electrical power can be seen as, for all realistic and practical purposes, infinitesimal.

We'll have more on natural emissions of Mercury relative to those of our relatively puny Coal-fired power plants in the future.

However, following are two links whose contents might prove of interest to anyone genuinely interested in the topic of putative Mercury contamination arising from our essential use of Coal in the generation of electrical power:

The above will take you two consecutive and interrelated segments of:

"USDOE Fact Sheet: National Energy Technology Laboratory Mercury Control Technology Research

Mercury exists in trace amounts in fossil fuels (e.g., natural gas ...), vegetation, crustal material and waste products. Through combustion or natural processes, mercury can be released to the atmosphere.

Current estimates approximate that 5,000 tons of mercury is released into the atmosphere from anthropogenic (man-made) and natural sources combined.

Anthropogenic sources in the United States account for about 3 percent of the total annual mercury releases, with US power plants contributing about 1 percent of the world total.

Coal-fired power plants currently emit about 41 tons of mercury or about 40% of total U.S. man-made mercury emissions.

(In other words, not really "about 1 percent of the world total", but, actually to be more precise, somewhat significantly less than one percent "of the world total" of Mercury emissions comes from burning Coal to generate electricity in the United States of America.)

The mercury control technology research activities are part of NETL's Innovation for Existing Plants (IEP) Program. The IEP program seeks to create technology options that will make the current fleet of coal-fired power plants to cost-effectively comply with future environmental regulations. The mercury control component of the program is directed to the development of low-cost control options to respond to future regulatory decisions.

(Now, all of that sounds pretty-darned reasonable, doesn't it? Guess again. Following is their interpretation of what "low-cost" actually means; and, what they're aiming for.)

The near-term goal is to develop mercury control technologies that can achieve 50 to 70% mercury capture at costs ranging from $30,000 to $40,000 per pound of mercury removed."


If you do all the math with all the facts and figures provided above - by necessity, we got help from the cashier at the restaurant - our government is willing, in seriousness and with a straight face, to add, by rough summation and average, one and one-half billion dollars to your and our electric bills in order to capture only a part of the Mercury emissions that, currently, in their own total, account for less than one percent of worldwide total Mercury emissions.

Too much of our money, far too much, already, has been spent on this particular Baloney Sandwich.

The meat has turned green, or gone rotten, something sure smells; and, it's far past time it was tossed out in the trash.

Further, if you read the full reports linked to herein, Mercury capture rates of roughly 50% can rather easily be achieved, we'll get into that in future dispatches; but, our USDOE apparently aren't happy with those methods, and raise a number of absolutely specious objections to them, suggesting even more money be spent to prove they're acceptable. Again, we'll treat all of that in later of our reports.

We do note that we have once previously, as in:

West Virginia Coal Association | EPA-Sponsored Fly Ash Concrete Sequesters Flue Gas Mercury | Research & Development; concerning: "US Patent Application 20030206843 - Methods and Compositions to Sequester Combustion-Gas Mercury in Fly Ash and Concrete; 2003: The United States Government may own certain rights to present invention pursuant to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Contract No. 68-D-01-075 and National Science Foundation Award No. DMI-0232735, to Sorbent Technologies Corporation. Abstract: A method for removing mercury from a combustion gas in an exhaust gas system has the steps of providing a mercury sorbent; injecting the mercury sorbent into a stream of the mercury-containing combustion gas to enable mercury to adsorb onto the sorbent; and collecting and removing the sorbent from the combustion gas stream. The mercury sorbent is prepared by treating a carbonaceous substrate with an ozone-containing gas to increase the ability of the substrate to adsorb mercury. Concrete compositions with fly ash containing the mercury sorbents will have reduced interference with air-entraining-admixtures. A process comprising oxidizing activated carbon-based sorbents which are used to capture metal vapors, said oxidizing reducing the undesirable affect on air entrainment when said activated carbon-based sorbents are to be incorporated into ash and the ash subsequently used in concrete";

made report of those seemingly more reasonable and more cost-effective Mercury capture technologies; and, it is those sorts of more economical Mercury removal systems, that contribute to the production of a useful and practical follow-on product, Mercury removal systems that the EPA paid to have developed, as in "U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Contract No. 68-D-01-075 and National Science Foundation Award No. DMI-0232735, to Sorbent Technologies Corporation", that the USDOE's NETL, in it's wisdom, questions the validity of, and has deemed more testing to be necessary for them to be proved out.

Again, we'll have more on all of that in future reports.

Another issue we might deal with is this:

It has been seriously proposed, as we will document, that, at great expense, and to the subsidy of the rail roads, Lignite Coal be imported from the western states to be blended with our eastern high-quality Bituminous Coal, to reduce the emission of Mercury as it proportionally relates to the amount of Coal burned.

Lignite contains, percentage-wise, less Mercury per ton than Bituminous Coal.

It also, however, contains significantly fewer Btu's, per ton, than Bituminous.

And, the net effect would be that you would have to burn more tons of Lignite to generate the same amount of electricity; and, those additional tons of lower energy Lignite being combusted, with their additional  contributions of Mercury, would have the net effect, our rough math indicates, of emitting almost precisely the same total amount of Mercury per equivalent Btu's generated, as our eastern Bituminous Coal.

That, aside from wasting all of that Diesel fuel to power the locomotives to haul all of that Lignite.

There're a lot of Baloney Sandwiches out there - all with their own special sauce slathered on by their own special interest groups.

Far past time our "Department of Economic Health" closed that sandwich shop. Too many cockroaches.

West Virginia Coal Association - PO Box 3923 - Charleston, WV 25339 | 304-342-4153 | website developed by brickswithoutstraw