2020 was a year unlike any other. Many industries experienced unprecedented changes in demand, changing in ways no one was prepared for. But 2020 is over, and 2021 offers a whole new array of opportunities and challenges.
There is one topic that continued to be a focus across nearly all industries, and that is environmental protection. From large energy conglomerates to small dairy farms, companies across the globe are adopting green initiatives. These initiatives vary in their goals, but the one commonality among them is the goal to reduce waste and cut back or eliminate carbon emissions. These initiatives coincide with regulatory bodies from around the world starting to come down harsher on certain types of pollution and pollution generating activities, in some cases, rather harshly.
Gulf Coast Environmental Systems serves dozens upon dozens of industries, on nearly every continent on the planet. Through customer feedback and employee research, the below are a few issues we expect to dominate the headlines in 2021.
Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) sites are facing growing pressure to find more sustainable ways to operate. Waste than cannot be recycled or composted at MSW sites is typically burned or buried. Because of space issues, burning has become the more popular option. However, burning waste, which creates VOC laden emissions, presents a couple of issues to owners and operators.
- Regulatory restrictions on landfill emissions are expected to become a significant focus in the near future, specifically methane and PFAS.
- Municipal landfills have communities as customers. The general public is becoming much more aware and concerned with their health, the environment, and the safety and sustainability of their towns and cities. High levels of pollution from waste burning have been directly linked to significant health problems, as well as climate change. Pressure from these concerned customers can present funding risks for municipal landfill sites.
The new administration in the United States has made it abundantly clear that the environment will be a big focus in the upcoming years. This includes an intense push towards renewable fuel alternatives, and carbon neutrality wherever possible. Landfill gas projects presents a massive opportunity for municipal waste sites to appease their customers, meet or exceed regulatory requirements, and produce revenue generating Renewable Natural Gas. With a number of government incentives already in place for RNG production from landfill gas sites, and the pressure mounting, Gulf Coast Environmental Systems is already seeing a huge uptick in these types of projects. We are currently working with over a dozen municipal waste sites, assisting them in creating revenue through waste gas abatement and cleaning.
2. PFAS – The Forever Chemical
If you have turned on the news in the last 3 years, you are likely familiar with the “forever chemical.” Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of man-made, highly fluorinated chemicals, that top the EPA’s list of emerging contaminants. These chemicals have been directly linked to a number of dangerous health conditions, including cancer. “Forever chemicals” such as PFAS do not normally breakdown and are difficult to destroy. They have been found in nearly all water sources across the US, and many states are facing soil contamination from municipal waste and manufacturing facilities. PFAS can be found in many household products, from fabrics and clothing to food and beverage packaging.
There are mounting lawsuits from states and health organizations across the United States to enforce stricter usage and abatement requirements for any facility using or producing PFAS. At GCES, we are already seeing a significant rise in PFAS abatement projects coming across our desks, particularly in landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and food and beverage packaging. Facilities are struggling to keep up with the intense and complicated abatement needs PFAS presents. PFAS requires significantly higher temperatures to meet acceptable destruction rate efficiencies. This means the thermal oxidizers used in PFAS heavy applications must be specifically designed to meet those needs, with temperatures between 1800°-2200° F.
3. Zero Flaring Initiative
Routine flaring, a specific type of flaring that is incredibly common in the oil and gas industry, is a process in which flaring is done in cases where the gas does not present any safety risks. This method of abatement is facing extreme scrutiny from all angle, because it is no longer the most climate conscious options.
Open routine flaring presents a number of pollution concerns, including sound, light, and air pollution. This practice releases a large amount of methane and CO2 into the environment and has been directly linked with high levels of ozone degradation and climate change. The World Bank has put forth an initiative to end routine flaring by 2030. Currently, 34 oil companies, 27 governments, and 15 developmental institutions endorse World Bank’s “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030.” In addition to the World Bank initiative, there is a coalition of major oil and gas companies that have started pressuring the Texas Railroad Commission to enforce stricter flaring regulations. Texas is the seat of the oil and gas industry in the United States, and regulating flaring would be a statement for the rest of the world.
4. Pharmaceuticals and Sterilization
In 2020, the United States saw sudden restrictions on Ethylene Oxide (EtO) put into place, forcing temporary shutdowns for several large sterilization facilities across the United States. These shutdowns were costly and could not have happened at a more inopportune time, due to the increased demands for medical supplies created by COVID. The shortage of sterilized medical supplies was a direct link to the EtO crackdown. The trend towards considerably stricter EtO abatement looks to continue in 2021, with many states suing the EPA for a federal limit on the VOC. Facilities will continue to face shutdowns and fines if they do not start meeting the 99.9%+ destruction rates being implemented for compliance. Gulf Coast Environmental Systems designs and manufactures systems specifically for the treatment of ethylene oxide, including scrubbers and catalytic oxidizers.
In addition to EtO and sterilization, the production of vaccines and pharmaceuticals will continue to grow exponentially over the next year. With 4 vaccines already being used worldwide to combat COVID, and several more on their way to gaining FDA approval, the need for mass production will be high. Likewise, the increase in demand for medications treating those of have been affected by the virus is expected to rise as well. The industry is expected to exceed $1 trillion in 2021, a 12.9% increase from the previous 2 years. Gulf Coast Environmental Systems has extensive experience supporting some of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers in the world, designing equipment that meets, and even exceeds, regulatory restrictions.
5. Service of Existing Equipment
This may sound like an odd trend to add to in an outlook article but let us explain. With many businesses, facing a sharp downturn in 2020 due to COVID, the demand to reduce CAPEX is high. This leads to an increased demand for preventative maintenance, as well as equipment upgrades and retrofits. Well designed and built pollution control equipment, that is maintained regularly, should last a few decades. Changes in process stream or regulatory requirements can present challenges for facilities, leaving them with the possibility of having to replace their equipment. This is not always necessary. Upgrades and retrofits on existing equipment can provide quick and cost-effective alternatives to purchasing an entirely different unit. In some instances, somewhat small upgrades can result in significant changes in efficiency. Some of these include installing a higher efficiency heat exchanger, adding variable frequency drives to fans, improving process flow and distribution, integrating secondary heat recovery, balancing combustion systems, etc.
Our aftermarket service team is supported by our engineers and controls division, and are able to assist with any equipment service needs, regardless of the manufacturer. Some of the benefits of an upgrade or retrofit with GCES include:
- Lower energy costs
- Improved VOC destruction efficiencies
- Increased product throughput
- Reduced emissions of other pollutants
- Improved uptime
- Extend equipment life
Cost savings will remain a significant focus for many businesses in 2021, as companies struggle to recover from the economic downturn. We are proud to offer these services to facilities looking to move forward; keeping people employed, while protecting the environment.
2021 may not be a normal year for many businesses, following the ups and downs of 2020. The trends we expect to see this year are a little different than the years past, but where there’s a will, there is a way.
Climate change fighting solutions, such as air pollution control equipment, should not be a burden. Gulf Coast Environmental Systems makes every effort to support businesses in meeting or exceeding their environmental goals, while providing revenue generating options to help them move forward.
If you have an upcoming project that will require a sustainable solution, contact one of our environmental experts, today, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 832.476.9024