NEWS RELEASE                                   NOVEMBER 2011

Mercury Control Market to Soar with New Utility Toxic Regulations

A $1 billion per year new market will be created with the promulgation of the rule to require Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) for utility power generators in the U.S.  Revenues will be a mix of capital equipment and consumables according to the McIlvaine Company in its continually updated, Mercury Air Reduction Markets.

This one rule will completely transform the activated carbon industry in the U.S.   The big market in the past has been to treat water. The usage is 500 million pounds per year. The usage in air treatment was less than 50 million pounds per year but sharply increased in the past two years as a number of utilities were required to meet MACT rules promulgated by individual states.  When the Federal MACT rule takes effect, the utility air market alone will exceed the water market.  The industry has anticipated the demand. The traditional suppliers, Calgon Carbon and Norit, have expanded capacity. Albemarle has acquired Sorbent Technologies and positioned itself as a major supplier. ADA-ES has entered the market with construction of a large activated carbon plant.

There is considerable uncertainty about the ultimate size of the market.  On one hand, there is attractive potential for activated carbon in related applications.  Presently, selenium is being captured in power plant scrubbers. It is subsequently removed from the wastewater with an expensive biological wastewater treatment system.  Plants with scrubbers would not normally consider activated carbon purchases. However, the removal of the selenium may warrant the purchase.

Another use in scrubbers is to recirculate activated carbon in the scrubber slurry. Evonik has pioneered this approach as a means of removing the mercury from the wastewater sludge. The mercury laden carbon is separated from the wastewater using hydrocyclones.  This allows disposal of the sludge as a non-hazardous material.

There is also negative uncertainty, as other chemicals will take market share away from activated carbon. There are some sorbents which are injected in a manner identical to activated carbon. The purpose is to adsorb the mercury by presenting a large surface area.  So far none of these has proven to be more cost effective.

The bigger threat comes from chemicals injected with the coal for the purpose of chemical change rather than adsorption. Oxides of mercury are much more soluble than elemental mercury. Halogen compounds including bromium and chlorine can oxidize most of the mercury in the flue gas. The result is that scrubbers can then efficiently remove the oxides. The uncertainty arises relative to how efficient this removal process may be.

The uncertainty is increased by the wide variations between fuels and boiler types and the many factors which influence efficiency of removal. There is further uncertainty as to the influence of the multi-pollutant requirement impact on mercury removal choices.  The necessity to remove hydrogen chloride and toxic metals other than mercury is a factor.

Ultimately the PM2.5 ambient air quality rules may have the largest impact on mercury reduction choices. Conceivably they could force scrubbers to achieve 98 percent or even 99 percent SO2 removal. This would dictate the use of wet rather than dry scrubbers. It would dictate chemical oxidation rather than adsorption.

The impact of PM2.5 is not likely to manifest itself until 2016 or 2017 and maybe even later. In fact, if the rest of the U.S. follows the Los Angeles example, it will be a slow process. A state will promulgate one rule assuming this will meet the ambient air target. A few years later, when it is clear that additional reduction is necessary, it will promulgate another rule, so compliance could take decades.

Utilities are likely to take a two-stage approach. The capital investment in activated carbon injection equipment is modest. So many companies may ultimately remove mercury first with activated carbon and later with chemical oxidation and scrubbing.

For more information on Mercury Air Reduction Markets