Dealing with mercury from coal-fired power plants

Where does airborne mercury come from, and how do we get rid of it?


Dear Control Engineering: When I read about new EPA regulations on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, I want to know where the mercury comes from, and how to get rid of it.

Power plants do not create mercury, lead, arsenic, or other heavy metals any more than they would be able to create gold. Those pollutants are elemental metals and present in coal. The problem is that when you burn coal, you vaporize those metals and send them out the stack. There is some controversy as to exactly what happens in the atmosphere, but eventually those metals condense, either in their elemental form or after reacting with something else in the process (e.g., chlorine), and fall to earth in rain drops. Rain goes into rivers and lakes, and fish accumulate the metals.

(There are other types of pollutants, such as dioxin, that can be formed in a combustion process, but that’s a different issue.)

Mercury emissions have gone down, at least as a function of total electricity produced, but many plants still have little in the way of abatement equipment. Conventional FGD scrubbers can help with mercury to some extent, but if you really want to cut it down, activated charcoal injection is usually best. If the fluegas is at the right temperature, mercury will condense and stick to finely-ground activated carbon particles blown into the stream. The particles are then removed in a baghouse.

This process works, but the result is contaminated charcoal. The usual disposal method is landfilling or burial. If you put it in an old coal mine, you’re returning it whence it came.

Peter Welander,

No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Choosing controllers: PLCs, PACs, IPCs, DCS? What's best for your application?; Wireless trends; Design, integration; Manufacturing Day; Product Exclusive
Variable speed drives: Smooth, efficient, electrically quite motion control; Process control upgrades; Mobile intelligence; Product finalists: Vote now; Product Exclusives
Machine design tips: Pneumatic or electric; Software upgrades; Ethernet advantages; Additive manufacturing; Engineering Leaders; Product exclusives: PLC, HMI, IO
This article collection contains the 5 most referenced articles on improving the use of PID.
Learn how Industry 4.0 adds supply chain efficiency, optimizes pricing, improves quality, and more.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security

(copy 5)