MEC 14 – Thank you Hanoi!

It’s over – our 14th annual MEC (multi-pollutant emissions from coal) workshop is complete, along with the co-located UN Asia-Pacific workshop on mercury emissions from coal. Over the week of meetings, over 80 people from over 20 countries shared expertise and opinions on the challenge of reducing emissions.

The challenges for each country were often quite unique. For example, Sri Lanka, with only one coal-fired power plant in operation, is engaged in minimising all environmental issues associated with the plant, including mitigating drainage issues associated with storing 6 months of imported coal in a region which is regularly flooded by monsoons. Mongolia has six coal utility plants but has a greater issue with the use of coal for domestic cooking and heating. Thailand has no emission control strategy for mercury yet but is already showing mercury emission reduction success through co-benefit effects of pollution control systems installed for SO2 and NOx control.

Indonesia has set an emission limit for mercury at 30 micrograms/m3, starting next year and a working group has been established to prepare technical guidance on mercury control options.

India, as the largest population and the fastest growing economy, faces the greatest challenge. Unfortunately, there were no Indian ministry delegates present to update the meeting on the government strategy to reduce emissions. However, an Indian delegate gave an overview of the sector – 34 GW of coal capacity over 25 years old will close and be replaced by supercrititcal units. 43 GW will upgrade with ESPs but, although FGD systems will be required by many plants to comply with the new SO2 emission norms, many plants simply do not have space for these large retrofits. India’s coal can be over 40% ash, posing problems for conventional NOx control systems. The potential for co-benefit mercury reduction in India could therefore be limited.

Leading the charge is China, with some of the most advanced, efficient and clean coal power plants on the planet. Ultra-low emission controls have been applied to over 80% of the coal capacity so far. The emission standard for mercury will be lowered to 1 microgram/m3 by 2030. The Chinese government has established a Co-ordination Group for the Mercury Convention Implementation to ensure it complies with all sections of the Minamata Convention, including the phase-out of mercury-using processes.

The host country, Vietnam, expects coal use to increase significantly over the coming decades but, at the same time, aims to reduce emissions through optimising plant performance. CEMs (continuous emission monitors) will be installed on all plants to evaluate emissions with the aim that at least 50% of mercury will be controlled by 2030 through improved air pollution control performance (co-benefit effects).

However, one of the presenters gave a paper with a stark reminder that Vietnam is still dealing with the clean-up of a more potent environmental hazard – dioxin – Agent Orange, which was dropped on several sites during the Vietnam war. Clean-up operations, funded by the USA, are ongoing.

MEC 14 was a lively event with many speakers presenting information on state-of-the-art emission monitoring and control options directly to a very receptive local audience. All the Asian countries represented at the Hanoi meetings are now moving through the convention implementation requirements and are setting action plans for each sector. Some have mercury emission limits already or these are imminent, whereas others are seeking guidance on acceptable emission limits which would offer environmental benefits whilst not causing issues to the sector.

Asia is on the edge of a new era in emission monitoring and control for coal plants and MEC 14 was timed perfectly to provide the introductions and networking to facilitate knowledge sharing and capacity building.