The evolution of emission monitoring – more pollutants, sources, and significant figures

CEM, Barcelona, Spain, 20-22 Sep, 2023
Prof Lesley L Sloss, International Project Manager
Being invited to attend this event was a delight and not just because Barcelona is stunning. I organised the first ever Conference on Emissions Monitoring (CEM) back in 1997 and the event, co-hosted by the National Physics Laboratory (NPL) in London, was attended by around 60 international delegates. This was also the first ever conference of any type held by the ICSC (or IEA Coal Research, as it was back then).

We continued to run CEM successfully for three or four more years until it grew too big for us to facilitate and too much of a distraction from our core work. The event was taken over by ILM Exhibitions and has continued to go from strength to strength. This week’s conference, attended by over 600 delegates, is the 15th face-to-face iteration. And with CEM events planned for New Delhi, India in February 2024, Ljubljana, Slovenia (2025, details TBC) and Bahrain, UAE in 2025; it is clear that there is a healthy (and necessary) interest in the accurate monitoring of pollutant emissions.

If I remember correctly, the first event in 1997 focused on standard methods for measuring major pollutants such as particulate matter, SO2 and trace elements, with methods for trace elements (including mercury) being new and exciting. Now, 26 years later, the topics in Barcelona are far more diverse, reflecting just how complex and challenging it has become to achieve valid pollution data. And this is for many different and fascinating reasons:

  • Lower concentrations – tightened emission standards have successfully lowered emissions of pollutants by several orders of magnitude. Monitors therefore need to be significantly more sensitive whilst still providing accurate and reliable data.
  • New pollutants are being added to the watch list – such as PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) from advanced chemical production processes. Utility sources such as coal-fired power plants will soon have to widen their monitoring strategies to include ammonia and hydrogen due to growing cofiring strategies and fuel mix modifications.
  • New sources are being scrutinised – large stationary sources such as coal plants have been monitored for decades but will now be joined by sources which, so far, have flown under the radar. Agricultural activities, landfill sites and battery production facilities are being added to the update of the EU Industrial Emissions Directive. Other sources include aviation, marine transport, and flaring (from oil and gas, as well as chemical processing sites). Coal mines, even those which are no longer active, may soon be required to report fugitive methane emissions. Emissions from abandoned and legacy coal mines, especially in developing countries, can be identified and quantified remotely with satellite monitoring. However, it will be challenging to reduce these emissions, as they are dilute and dispersed across wide areas and may require legal action to determine who is responsible for the clean-up of these legacy sites.
  • Matching source emissions with atmospheric concentrations – not all emission sources have been identified and, even if they were, the combination and interaction of pollutants from various different sources needs to be fully understood to protect public health. Methods such as fence-line monitoring, fugitive monitoring, drones and even satellite analysis are building an overarching understanding of what has been termed ‘atmospheric fall-out’. The field of emissions monitoring is evolving into environmental forensics, including advancements in CO2 monitoring to determine whether emissions are from fossil, or more recent, carbon sources.
  • Regional variations and mismatches in methods – as emission standards have evolved regionally, so have monitoring and training methods. The EU methods are quite distinct from the US methods, which can lead to challenges when both options are permitted, as is the case in India.

With respect to the latter challenge, the ICSC has recently published the new Indian best practice guidelines for emission monitoring which is being accepted as the industry standard. The results from this and our recent capacity building work in India, funded by the US Department of State, were presented in Barcelona (remotely) by our consultant in India, Sanjeev Kanchan. I was happy to be on site to respond to follow-up questions and to encourage all delegates to attend the CEM India event in Delhi February 2024. This event will officially launch our CEMEG-India legacy initiative, which has catalysed the formation of a working group to promote best practice in emission monitoring in India. More information here.