Activated Carbon: US EPA considers change in toxic mercury emissions legislation

Activated carbon

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering changes to its regulation of toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. In an announcement in late December 2018, the EPA proposes what would be another Trump administration rollback of federal enforcement under the Clean Air Act.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of mercury pollution. Mercury harms the developing nervous systems of children and causes other severe health damage. Environmental groups say federal and state limits have helped cut mercury emissions from power plants by 85% in the USA since 2006. The new EPA finding, however, would conclude it’s not “appropriate” for the agency to regulate the toxic emissions. Environmental groups fear the move is a step toward rolling back toxic-emissions standards for coal-fired plants.

Roskill view

Powdered activated carbon systems are one of the dominant technologies in the control of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plant flue gas. Activated carbon markets were boosted in April 2016 following a US Court of Appeal decision to keep the US EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) regulation in place. Roskill estimates that once all US coal-fired utilities are in compliance with MATS, the industry in the USA will consume approximately 150,000tpy activated carbon in systems to reduce mercury emissions.

More than 30% of the electricity generated in the USA comes from burning coal. In China, an even higher proportion of electricity generation is from coal-fired power stations. If China enacts similar legislation to the US EPA MATS rule, the potential world demand for activated carbon in flue gas treatment systems could double to 300,000tpy of powdered activated carbon. China was one of the 140 countries that signed the Minamata Convention on mercury on 19 January 2013 and it went on to ratify the treaty on 31 August 2016. By early 2019, 128 countries had signed the treaty and 101 had also ratified it. The Minamata Convention on Mercury was adopted at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries (DipCon) on 10 October 2013 in Kumamoto, Japan and to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention, and to promote environmental awareness of the citizens for achieving a ‘mercury-free society’, a Mercury-free Fair was held in Kumamoto, Japan on 18 November 2018.

Roskill’s Activated Carbon: Global Industry, Markets & Outlook report offers an independent view of the activated carbon market to 2025. Click here to download the brochure and sample pages, or to access further information.

To discuss the activated carbon market with Roskill, contact Kerry Satterthwaite: