You cannot turn on a computer or television, without seeing a story about climate change. Our planet is being choked by man-made emissions, and experts spend countless hours and dollars researching ways to reduce this plague, that we continue to bring upon ourselves. Changes have already been made in many industries, with hybrid vehicles, solar powered homes, and products made of recycled goods becoming ever more popular. But there are still huge questions when it comes to manufacturing and industrial fields. Nuclear power plants, steel companies, waste management facilities, coal mines… all industries that have come under fire in recent years, for producing dangerous emissions. The majority of recommendations to reduce these emissions involve cutting back on production, which could potentially have massive economic repercussions. But here is the thing, there is a simple solution, that has existed for decades.
How familiar are you with pollution control equipment? Are you aware that there are options for basically every industrial facility in the world, to eliminate the dangerous waste they produce? The answer to these questions for most people outside of the industrial sector is no. So, what is this equipment? How does it work? And why is it not a larger part of the conversation, when discussing climate change?
What are VOCs?
Organic Compounds (hydrocarbons) are naturally occurring substances that can be found in all living things. However, the solvents being emitted from manufacturing and industrial processes are considered Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The hydrocarbons are considered “unstable” or “volatile,” since they produce a vapor at room temperature and at normal atmospheric pressure.
VOCs are leading contributors to the formation of ozone and smog. Extremely low levels of ozone can cause significant respiratory difficulties in a sizable portion of the population, and contributes to the formation of smog. Smog is the hazy brown cloud hovering over the major cities of the world, which destroys agriculture, forests, and damages the entire ecosystem.
The mechanism for ozone production is: VOC + NOx + sunlight (UV) = Ozone
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies VOCs to mean “any compound of carbon, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates, and ammonium carbonate, which participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions.”
In addition to their environmental impact, VOCs pose a serious risk to human health. They have been linked to eye, throat and lung irritation, nausea, headache, nasal blockage, sleeping difficulties, weight loss, chest pain, and even asthma. Some recent studies indicate a connection between air pollution, and Alzheimer’s, diabetes, slow fetal development, and lung cancer. Current research indicates that 1-in-10 cases of lung cancer are the result of air pollution exposure.
One would think equipment that destroys these compounds with up to 99.9%+ efficiency would be a pretty obvious solution, right?
What is Pollution Control Equipment?
For those not familiar with pollution control equipment, this is a quick, incredibly simplified, explanation: in most manufacturing processes, volatile organic compounds are used, or produced as a byproduct or means of production. Pollution control equipment is used to process or abate those dangerous chemicals and compounds, so they do not end up in the air, soil, or water. This encompasses just about every industry you can think of; food, beverage, packaging, steel, natural gas, oil, cosmetics, automotive, paint, pharmacy, printing… to name just a few. And as previously mentioned, this technology has been available for decades.
By breaking the original composition of the VOC Hydrocarbons – carbon and hydrogen – we allow the two constituents to reform naturally into carbon dioxide and water vapor, while releasing heat energy. The heat energy is then recuperated into the system by use of a heat exchange device, while the now clean air stream of carbon dioxide and water is discharged to atmosphere.
Over the past 50 years, environmental regulations have become stricter, and technology has advanced to efficiently remove pollutants as an ‘end of the pipe’ solution. However, not every country requires the use of pollution control equipment, and those that do are often not terribly strict about it.
In addition to destroying VOCs, pollution control equipment is a source of alternative energy options.
Most pollution control equipment require excessive heat, which is used to break down the VOCs. This heat can be recovered, and used to power the equipment, itself. There are several different options for heat recovery, when using pollution control equipment. By implementing Waste Heat Recovery options a facility can greatly reduce operating costs and increase efficiencies.
The more astounding ability pollution control equipment has is the ability to take dangerous emissions, that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, and turn them into Renewable Natural Gas. This is pipeline quality natural gas, that is created as a byproduct of VOC destruction. This gas is incredibly valuable, and can be purchased and used by energy companies and municipalities. Landfills are the most common source of RNGs, and the EPA has started to incentivize the use of RNGs created by landfills. Landfills consist of a complex mix of gases and VOCs, and are a source of major pollution, and potential revenue. Dangerous gases like methane(CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur oxides (SOx), and ammonia, are created by the decomposition and evaporation of organic compounds, as well as chemical reactions between waste components.
These gases and VOCs are considered greenhouse gases, and play a huge role in global warming. According to the EPA, in the United States, landfills are the third most prevalent source of methane, and other greenhouse gases. Another risk when dealing with methane is the flammability of the gas, which is incredibly high. When condensed into a small space, methane is considered an explosive, and should be handled with extreme caution. Landfill gas explosions are not uncommon.
Why isn’t this solution a bigger part of the international climate change conversation? There are systems available for just about every sized operation, big and small, for just about every VOC known to man. The EPA does require some level of pollution control in most industries, but these requirements often come with loopholes, or simply do not require total destruction. In many cases, organizations choose to simply pay the relatively small fines, than spend the money on the necessary equipment. Some regions are only required to abate for certain parts of the year! This is outrageous. If climate scientists focused more on this obvious solution, regulations would likely become stricter. This technology has the potential to save entire industries, cut emissions significantly, and create jobs.
Corporate Social Responsibility is just one part of the equation; we must urge scientists and regulating agencies to take more time evaluating this potential game changer, in the world of climate change. If you would like to know why your local government is not doing more to require businesses to use pollution control equipment, contact your local representative.