Steam generation is necessary for industries across the United States to manufacture the products and services we interact with daily. To accomplish such outcomes, however, requires optimizing the steam generation equipment and processes. In addition to addressing cost-effectiveness, safety and reliability, meeting emissions standards is a major concern that organizations face when generating steam for their facilities. Not meeting these regulations — enacted to protect the environment for future generations — damages the environment and can have costly ramifications for the company.
In the United States, at the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency develops programs to support and enforce the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws enacted by Congress. The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act require facilities to reduce the emissions of pollutants that harm the ozone layer, air quality and visibility. (Specifically, the 1990 amendments addressed acid rain, urban air pollution, toxic air emissions and stratospheric ozone depletion.) In addition to any federal requirements, regional and local ordinances and regulations also place emissions restrictions on manufacturers. For instance, in states like California and Oregon, stricter environmental regulations have been enacted.
Beyond a desire to acquire steam generation equipment that meets federal and local emissions standards, many organizations desire solutions that closely align with their sustainability-centered goals. Practicing sustainability throughout an organization, including the industrial process equipment, can increase positive customer perception and reputation.
No matter what drives the need for low emissions in steam generation equipment, a company seeking to comply with the requirements may find the standards confusing or overwhelming to navigate. To help, this article seeks to debunk common myths and serves as a guide to understanding emissions and compliance methods. Such information can be used to select a solution that matches your organizational goals.
Steam Boiler Emissions Standards
The first step to understanding the importance of complying with steam boiler emissions standards is to know the basics of such emissions and how they affect the environment. While an array of emissions affect the environment, this article focuses on the types relevant to steam boiler owners and operators.
When any equipment burns fuel at high temperatures, the equipment releases nitrogen oxides — also commonly referred to as NOX — into the air. Unfortunately, NOX gases are around us more than most people realize. For instance, everyday vehicles like cars, trucks, public transportation and boats release NOX gases. Also, industrial sources such as boilers, gas turbines and power plants release NOX into the air. If it burns fuel, it most likely releases NOX.
Another greenhouse gas that is released from industrial equipment when combusting fuel is carbon dioxide, or CO2. While CO2 is produced naturally throughout aspects of life on Earth, producing more CO2 than what occurs naturally is harmful for respiration and causes the atmosphere to trap additional heat.
Many U.S. metropolitan areas regulate vehicle pollution by requiring annual emission checks and encouraging citizens to take steps to help reduce air pollution. (Generally, less populous areas do not strictly regulate vehicle emissions.) In addition, regardless of location, many government agencies emphasize controlling emissions from stationary sources. Typically, limiting NOX emissions on stationary sources such as industrial equipment inside manufacturing facilities and other buildings is a more feasible way.
The EPA bases its standards on reasonably available control technology (RACT) and other programs that may apply depending on an organization’s current or future equipment progression. The EPA also considers current economic and technological factors to calculate an emissions requirement that is reasonable to achieve.
Industrial steam boilers are one of the types of stationary equipment subjected to emissions regulations. In this equipment, water is heated — using combustible fuel — to a high enough temperature to create continuous steam. The steam transfers for other use, but the equipment itself releases emissions into the atmosphere as a result of burning fuel.
How to Comply
As mentioned earlier, each state has requirements and plans for reducing emissions, with the EPA as the governing guiding body on the federal level. Although following guidelines can seem like an unnecessary annoyance, these regulations intend to help improve air quality now and in the future. Additionally, some states provide business incentives to encourage companies to maintain sustainability.
But, how can organizations be sure their steam boiler solution meets the requirements, and which solutions typically are more environmentally friendly?
First, an organization’s operations leaders need to investigate local requirements. Through the EPA website, decision-makers can find which local government upholds the emissions requirements for steam boilers and other equipment in their area. Decision-makers should pay attention to deadlines and exceptions to standards based on equipment age and other factors. Working with an equipment sales representative that is local to the facility’s region can be helpful. The representative can advise on solutions that satisfy the process steam demands and regulatory requirements.
Second, it is necessary to recognize that classifying a steam boiler as low emissions does not mean it is guaranteed to meet the requirements for every region. For example, a low emissions NOX rate for one state is set at 20 parts per million (ppm) while another state defines it as 9 ppm. When selecting a steam boiler, you must compare your regional requirements (in ppm) with the equipment specifications. Do not just trust that every boiler that says it is low emissions will meet the standards with which you must comply.
It is no secret that there are several types of steam boilers from which to choose. Certain types have features that make them more environmentally friendly than others. In addition to a low emissions rate that matches or is below local requirements, other boiler qualifications to consider are energy efficiency, the ability to recover waste-heat energy and carbon neutrality.
Meeting emissions requirements with the steam boilers in a facility can be an overwhelming project. With mixed advice floating around industries, and a multitude of options available, it is no surprise that common myths about the best way to meet these requirements have surfaced. Despite this confusion, facility teams need to know the reality and cost of each option so that they can select appropriate equipment.
It is understandable that organizations with established steam boiler systems may not be interested in overhauling the entire process heating system with upgraded equipment to match or stay ahead of requirements. Many believe that the best alternative to buying a new system is to install a selective catalytic reduction system (SCR), a large, outer receiver fitted before the boiler’s exhaust stack to strip pollutants before they enter the air. While it sounds like a simple solution, an SCR has fixed costs and requires monitoring. In some applications, these costs may outweigh the benefits and balance the scale in favor of upgrading to a steam generation system capable of meet emissions regulations.
Another factor to evaluate is whether the current equipment is suffering from problems such as poor thermal or fuel efficiency, low reliability or the inability to meet steam demands. It is important to remember that in some cases, modifying an existing system could trigger best available control technology (BACT) requirements. Also, while the idea of upgrading to a lower emissions solution may seem unnecessary, the long-run benefits could lead to significant savings and benefits beyond emissions.
Simply not complying with the emissions guidelines is not an option. Depending on the individual state rules, organizations can face strict penalties for not complying when an inspector checks the facility’s equipment throughout the year. The local enforcement can punish those that do not follow regulations with fines calculated per operating hour or even completely shut down the facility.
In conclusion, maintaining an agile and flexible approach to changes across the organization is key to success no matter what the future holds. In today’s world, it is clear that protecting the environment is crucial, and sustainability will continue to evolve. Emissions standards will continue to shift, and more consumers will expect organizations to uphold corporate responsibility sustainability standards.
So, how do you find the right steam generation solution for your process? The first benchmark is meeting emissions guidelines, but this should not be the only benchmark. Organizations should consider whether steam demands are likely to increase or decrease in the future. Other factors to evaluate include operator safety and technology that cuts energy and operating costs or improves reliability. Do not let an inefficient and unreliable boiler that only meets basic emissions standards hold you back. Size any steam heating system to meet your current needs and is able to grow with your process heating demands.
Hayley Schmitt is a marketing content writer with Miura America. The Rockmart, Ga.-based company can be reached at 678-685-0929 or visit miuraboiler.com.