We have all seen the industry outlook articles, claiming to name the upcoming industry leaders and trends for this year. You might notice these articles list completely irrelevant “trends” and a number of companies that paid to be called “up and coming,” Gulf Coast Environmental Systems has been recognized as an industry leader for nearly two-decades. We work in some of the most challenging environments on the planet, with some of the harshest pollutants. Because of this, we have a constant pulse on the pollution control field.
With 2020 upon us, we sat down with a few of our in-house experts and put together a list of trends and changes the industry should expect this year.
The most obvious issue facing nearly every industrial facility is the public focus on pollution and climate change. In 2019, we were presented with study after study proving a connection between pollution and serious human health risks, and even death. With 24-hour access to these studies, and widespread social media use, the general public is starting to raise their voice in protest, and demanding government action. This, in combination with increased urbanization in previously underdeveloped areas, the regulatory agencies of the world have started to demand more stringent destruction requirements.
Most of the trends we expect to see in 2020 are related to the pressure that these regulatory industries are facing, regarding specific applications and/or emissions. Below are the “hot topics” for 2020:
Ethylene Oxide is a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) with the chemical formula of C2H4O. EtO is used in hundreds of different applications across several industries. The most common use is as a building block for other chemicals. Some of the products created with Ethylene Oxide include polyester fabrics and upholstery, anti-freeze, industrial and household cleansers, fiberglass, resins, plastic packaging, and many more. The application that ethylene oxide gets the most media and regulatory attention for is medical sterilization. The chemical is used in the sterilization of medical and pharmaceutical supplies that cannot sustain traditional high heat sterilization.
There has been a lot of talk about Ethylene Oxide and medical sterilization facilities in the news recently. This is because previous regulations on Ethylene Oxide were often lax and non-specific. However, recent research indicates that Ethylene Oxide is dangerous and known carcinogen. The results of these studies have led to public outcry for stricter regulation in treatment and abatement making Ethylene Oxide one of the most focused on emissions in the world.
With states like Illinois and Georgia leading the way in new regulatory overhauls on EtO, Gulf Coast Environmental Systems has already seen a marked uptick in requests for technology that can offer at least 99.9% destruction rate efficiency for EtO applications. These needs are often immediate, due to shutdowns that are already being ordered across the US. The most commonly used technologies for EtO use and manufacturing are Catalytic Oxidizers (CO), Recuperative Catalytic Oxidizers (RCO), and Wet Scrubber. A catalytic oxidizer is a type of pollution control equipment that is used to abate industrial exhaust streams laden with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like Ethylene Oxide. Also known as a CO, CATOX, CTO (Catalytic Thermal Oxidizer), RCO (Regenerative Catalytic Oxidizer), or CRO (Catalytic Recuperative Oxidizer), a catalytic oxidizer works to destroy Ethylene Oxide by raising the temperature of the exhaust stream to a point in which the chemical bonds that hold the VOC molecules together are broken (oxidized) across the precious or base metals from the catalyst media. One of the specific types of RCO units for treating Ethylene Oxide is an Electric Regenerative Catalytic Oxidizers (E-RCO).
Wet Scrubbers are another viable option for the abatement of EtO. Many technologies, including Wet Scrubbers, can be retrofitted to reach the 99.9% DRE that so many states are now requiring.
For many years, GCES has offered the use of this technology to our more forward-thinking customers for sterilized storage room exhaust streams.
GCES expects this trend to continue into 2020 and become a world-wide issue.
The coal industry is no stranger to negative attention and regulatory restrictions. However, the focus on greener energy alternatives, and pollution reduction, have really hit the industry hard. Many countries are putting forth efforts and legislation to completely abolish the use of coal, shutting down plants at a neck-breaking pace. This is often because of the dangerous methane produce by underground coal mines.
Underground coal mines produce a large amount of methane. Much of this methane gets trapped in the mine shafts with the miners, making it a very dangerous, and potentially explosive work environment. To reduce the amount of methane in the mine with the miners, vents are used to sypher the methane out, while bringing fresh air in. This exhaust of methane into the atmosphere is called Ventilation Air Methane, or VAM. VAM is responsible for roughly 70% of all coal mine methane emissions, and while generally considered too diluted to be explosive, this methane presents an environmental risk, as well as a source of lost revenue.
Shutting down coal facilities may not be the only option to prevent this dangerous methane from affecting the planet. A Ventilation Air Methane Thermal Oxidizer (VAMTOX), or CH4 Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer, is a specialized type of the thermal oxidizer, designed to handle methane (CH4) produced by many applications, including mining, industrial, and municipal waste streams. This allows mines to continue to operate, but under safer and more planet friendly conditions.
Carbon credit programs to incentivize methane destruction, using VAM technologies rather than venting, are set to begin in 2021 under the current emissions trading system (ETS). Because of this, GCES has already witnessed a massive influx of requests for this specialized technology option, and we do not see an end in sight.
- Landfills & RNG
Landfills consist of a complex mix of gases and VOCs, and are a source of major pollution. Dangerous gases like methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfides (SOx), and ammonia, are created by the decomposition and evaporation of organic compounds, as well as chemical reactions between waste components. Methane and carbon dioxide are the most prevalent, making up between 90 and 98% of all gases and VOCs released. Because of this, landfills are often seen as a necessary evil, that must be regulated and controlled for the health and safety of planet. According to the EPA, in the United States, landfills are the third most prevalent source of methane, and other greenhouse gases. Continued focus on landfills and methane emissions has started a trend in landfill RNG projects.
RNG stands for renewable natural gas. Renewable natural gas, also known as sustainable natural gas (SNG), or biomethane, is a biogas that can now be used as a pipeline energy source. Natural gas and energy companies can purchase the waste gas from landfill gas abatement, and sell it to their customers. RNG qualifies as an advanced biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
The RNG created by landfill gas abatement are incredibly valuable, because it can be used interchangeably with natural gas, and the US government incentivizes energy companies to purchase and use them. As of March 2015, there were about 645 operational Landfill Gas projects in the United States through the Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP), and that number was expected to steeply rise. Because of this, these gases often sell at a higher rate, than conventional natural gas. The end result of RNG development takes dangerous gases, and turns them into valuable sources of energy, while aiding in the prevention of global warming.
Our engineering team has taken a special interest in landfill projects, because of the massive global benefits, and in doing so, we have come up with several abatement options. By designing and custom manufacturing pollution control equipment in-house, we are able to provide the best solution for each unique operating condition.
GCES has worked on a number of landfill RNG projects in the last few years, and we expect the interest in this type of project to increase exponentially in the next 5-years. Through our network, GCES can support development projects from funding, to gas purchasing matchmaking.
- Routine Flare Reduction
In the drilling process, the oil that is retrieved from the ground is accompanied by a significant amount of gas. These gases are deemed uneconomical and generally burned off using flares. Flares are pollution control devices used to safely combust unwanted process waste gas streams.
Globally, gas flares burn approximately 140 billion cubic meters of natural gas, per year. This amounts to 300 million tons of CO2 being released into the atmosphere, without capture. This release is a potentially massive missed opportunity; the amount of gas flared last year alone could be used to create more electricity than the entire continent of Africa uses in a year. Furthermore, gases that cannot be used for energy generation still have other options for conservation and use, providing further financial value.
World Bank, along with industry leaders, is looking to change this practice. In 2015, World Bank announced the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” Initiative. This initiative encourages oil companies, development institutions, and governments to take steps to replace current routine flaring practices, with solutions that will capture the waste gases and CO2 and repurpose it. This initiative targets routine flaring, only.
Currently, 34 oil companies, 27 governments, and 15 developmental institutions endorse and report World Bank’s “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030.” In order to stop using flares, alternative technologies must be implemented. Gulf Coast Environmental Systems has spent over 15-years perfecting these alternative options, such as Vapor Combustor Units and Thermal Oxidizers.
With this incredibly impressive goal, World Bank has set a trend, which we expect to take off in 2020.
A facility that implements a green energy program may be eligible to receive carbon credits. Carbon credits can be sold or traded between participating facilities. One ton of carbon equates to a single carbon credit, which is worth between $11 and $14, depending on the market. The market for carbon credits was created to lessen the concentration of growth in the release of greenhouse gases. It works by allowing facilities to trade off the amount of emissions they are allowed to release, in a capped market. If a plant is emitting far below the allotted amount, they may sell their credits to a facility that is meeting or exceeding their allotted amount. This means the same amount of pollution is being released in one capped area, and no one breaks regulation.
Similar to carbon trading, VOC and NOx credits can be traded and sold for profit in some markets. This is typically achieved on a more localized scale, meaning every market is completely different. A facility that is exceeding what is required, as far as emissions, may be able to sell their credits to facilities meeting their allowed emissions, for profit. GCES can connect buyers and sellers.
Example of VOC and NOx trading: If a facility releases 348 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 522 tons of (VOC) into the air each year, they may need to offset that. They would need to buy credits at a ratio between 1.15 and 1.3 credits for every ton of emissions.
As with carbon credit trading, to purchase these credits, an organization/buyer will need to find a seller that is not meeting their emissions cap. That facility will now profit from their pollution control equipment, which has helped them come in below their regulated emissions.
The ability to turn a profit from meeting regulatory requirements will not be going out of style anytime soon. We expect this trend to skyrocket in the upcoming year.
- Tax Incentives
Across the globe, there are various tax credits and subsidies available for companies participating in pollution reduction and green energy development programs. The United States, in particular, has begun increasing the number of and value of incentives available to facilities that implement greener practices, such as credit trading, solvent and energy recovery, methane repurposing, and more. The creation of RNG at landfills, for instance, is heavily incentivized for both the landfill, and the utility companies purchasing this RNG. Because RNG created by landfill applications can be pipe quality, and interchangeable with the traditional natural gas, electric companies are encouraged to purchase and use it, whenever possible. Some areas of the country even require utility providers to have a certain percentage of all the natural gas used to be RNG.
Carbon capture projects in several industries, including oil and gas, are also heavily incentivized by the US government. 45Q is a section of the US tax code that provides a performance-based tax credit for this widely used application (drilling). Similar credits exist across the board, and are becoming more and more popular on a global level, as well. Flare alternative technologies, such as Thermal Oxidizers and Vapor Combustor Units, are an integral part of most recovery based green facility plans… making them absolutely necessary when attempting to earn a tax credit.
Because of this, we expect this trend in pollution control to garner even more attention in 2020.
Pollution control equipment’s ability to meet regulatory requirements, while also offering a source of revenue or credit, and protecting the planet, lead us to believe that market for the best available abatement technologies will grow exponentially throughout 2020. The public is generally unaware that pollution control equipment exists; however, the issues and incentives above will hopefully lead to larger conversations regarding this industry, and why it is so important.