EU toughens emissions standards for large combustion plants

The European Commission has published new emissions standards for Europe’s large power plants, which will tighten requirements around emissions of nitrous oxides and particulate matter by 2021.

New rules are to enter effect for emissions from Europe’s large combustion plants

The new standards are set in the BAT (Best Available Techniques) Conclusions of the revised LCP BREF (Large Combustion Plants BAT Reference Document) which was published in the Official Journal of the European Union last week, following a vote by Member States in April.

The new BREF levels will become the reference for setting permit conditions in Europe and include tighter rules for emissions of nitrous oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), mercury and particulate matter (PM).

These standards include yearly average emission levels (BAT-AELs) for NOx emissions to air from the combustion of coal and/or lignite of 175 mg/Nm³ for existing combustion plants with a total rated thermal input of more than 300 MW.

As a result of the stricter standards, existing plants may require costly technical updates in order to reduce their emissions, or cease operations entirely.

Pollution

According to the European Commission, Large Combustion Plants are responsible for up to one-third of all conventional pollutants from industry across Europe. The Commission claims that these facilities contribute to around 46% of SO2 emissions, 18% of NOx and 4% of PM10 of total emissions.

In a statement following the adoption of the new standards, the Commission said: “The adoption today of an implementing act by the Commission brings into effect “Best Available Technique”(BAT) conclusions for Large Combustion Plants. These have been developed through a transparent and thorough evidence-based process over several years, in intensive collaboration with EU Member States, industry and environmental NGOs.

“As the largest sectoral emitter in the EU, it is quite appropriate to require further cost effective and technically feasible reductions of emissions. For all affected installations (around 3500 in the EU-28) a review of their permits must now happen within four years so that by mid-2021 the emission limits set for all large combustion plants will be in line with the requirements of the BAT conclusions.”

Coal

A report by the European Environment Bureau (EEB) lobby group, published last year, suggested that the rules have the potential to prevent 20,000 premature deaths every year from coal plants. As the new standards apply not just to coal power stations but to all EU large combustion plants, burning a variety of fuels, the potential health and environmental benefits will be “even more significant”, EEB said.

Commenting on the new standard, Christian Schaible, EEB Industrial Production Manager and a member of the Technical Working Group that helped to draft the revisions, said: “These new requirements will help speed up the energy transition as the most polluting plants are closed.

“While the clock is ticking it’s up to national authorities to decide how much pollution they want to cut; the European rules are just a safety net setting out the minimum action required. Governments that want to see positive results in air quality, climate change and investments in the sustainable infrastructure of the future, must go beyond these minimum requirements.”