Industrial Air Pollution Clean-Up Is On Its Way In 2018

Since 1955, the United States government has recognized the need for legislation to clean up air pollution. Subsequent revisions to the initial legislation strengthened the laws regarding allowable amounts of car emissions, factory smog, and other sources of air pollution.

The most recent version, The Clean Air Act of 1990, tackled five areas: air-quality standards, motor vehicle emissions and alternative fuels, toxic air pollutants, acid rain, and stratospheric ozone depletion.

But now, in 2018, it isn’t just legislation and governments fighting air pollution. Private inventors, corporations, and other organizations are harnessing the technology that can aid in cleaning our air all over the world, along with recognizing that some advances in technology are creating more air pollution.

Technology Is Causing Air Pollution

Technology Is Causing Air Pollution

While it’s true that technology is being used to clean up air pollution, it’s also been the primary cause.

No technological wonder has caused more air pollution than the horseless carriage. Nearly half of Americans—150 million—live in cities that fail to meet federally designated air quality standards. Cars, vans, trucks, and heavy-duty vehicles (think dump trucks and backhoes) are the primary sources of such pollution, which includes the release of excess ozone, release of particulate matter, and release of other smog-forming emissions.

Air pollution health effects need to be taken seriously. Bad air increases respiratory disorders like asthma and bronchitis. Air pollution also increases the risk of life-threatening health conditions, such as cancer, and burdens health care systems with substantial medical costs. Particulate matter alone is responsible for up to 30,000 deaths a year.

Industrial pollution is another primary source of air pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), air pollution levels from 1990 to 2008 increased 14 percent. This trend mirrors the number of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in the air. Air pollution has serious effects on the health of the planet and its population.

Factories pollute the air mostly through fossil fuel emissions. Fossil fuel emissions include methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide. While these are naturally-occurring substances, the extremely high levels of emissions are the main concern. Industrial methods also emit manmade emissions of fluorine-containing gases like hydrofluorocarbons.

Aerosols are another significant source of air pollution There are many countries, starting with the United States, which are making significant progress in cutting down on air pollution that is directly related to aerosols.

How Technology Has Helped Decrease Air Pollution in Recent Years

How Technology Has Helped Decrease Air Pollution in Recent Years

Thankfully, we’ve already made some steps toward cutting the amount of air pollution, and it’s critical that we continue to do so.

The environmental effects of air pollution mean the destruction of oxygen producing plants and damage to long-term forest viability, deterioration of nutrients in the soil, toxins making their way into the food chain, killing and damage of aquatic life in streams, rivers, and lakes, and nitrogen overload in coastal estuaries leading to oxygen depletion and harm to fish and other aquatic animals.

Reducing air pollution has so many benefits! Clean air increases timber and crop yields, and better visibility conditions in 2010 in selected national parks and large cities had an impact of saving $34 billion.

Solar energy has been an alternative source of electricity for decades, though it is not widely used. Sunlight that reaches Earth’s surface provides, “…10,000 times more energy than we consume, and solar power aims to harness this force.” Solar technologies use sunlight captured through solar cells to provide electricity for heating, cooling, and even running small electronics like a calculator.

Researchers have determined that if we covered only 0.1 percent of the Earth’s surface with efficient solar cells, we could replace all other forms of energy. University researchers around the world are trying to develop advanced solar arrays using nanotechnology. Their hope is to harness the sun as our primary form of energy.

The EPA, since the early millennia, has mandated significant reductions in emissions from newer cars, vans, trucks, and non-road engines like those used in construction, agriculture, and industry, as well as trains and marine ships. They called for these changes using standards that combine cleaner fuels and cleaner engine technologies. Since the EPA began regulating through the 1970 Clean Air Act, emissions from all types of vehicles have been reduced from 90-99%.

This led to the development of the electric car and hybrid vehicles. They were first made noticeable by celebrity owners, but now the everyday drivers’ worries about increasing gas prices and the damage fossil fuels have on the environment, have created a demand and market for hybrids.

Sales of hybrid cars like Toyota’s Prius, doubled in January 2006 compared to the year before, with nearly 16,000 cars sold. Hybrids are built with smaller gasoline engines, electric motors, and rechargeable batteries. They deliver outstanding gas mileage and create far less air pollution than traditional vehicles.

In newly built plants that use coal as fuel, builders must install control devices that “capture up to 98 percent of the sulfur dioxide and in many cases 90 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions, relative to uncontrolled levels.”

Clean technologies are being introduced and old tech is being improved. Though catalysts, scrubbers, and low-VOC paints and coatings were not used in 1970, they have been proven to be effective and are widely deployed today across industries.

Some examples include:

  • Selective catalytic reduction (SCR)
  • Scrubbers which achieve 95 percent and even greater SO2 control on boilers
  • Sophisticated new valve seals and leak detection equipment, including cameras that can see leaks, for refineries and chemical plans
  • Low or zero VOC paints, consumer products and cleaning processes
  • Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC)-free air conditioners, refrigerators, aerosol sprays and cleaning solvents
  • Water and powder-based coatings to replace petroleum-based formulations
  • Market penetration of gas-electric hybrid vehicles and clean fuels
  • Routine use of continuous monitoring technology that provides data more quickly
  • Multi-pollutant monitors that helps us to better understand the complex nature of air pollution

New Technology to Control Air Pollution

New Technology to Control Air Pollution

One of the newest technologies to spring up recently is artist Daan Roosegaarde’s Smog Free Tower. Roosegaarde traveled to Beijing in 2014, and from his hotel room on the 32nd floor, he could not see the city. “It was all gone,” Roosegaarde says. “The city was completely covered with smog.”

Now, he is on tour with the world’s largest, and most impressive, air purifier. The Smog Free Tower will make bubbles of clean air wherever they are placed. Roosegaarde hopes his product will raise public awareness of the dangers of air pollution.

Through ion technology, the Smog Free Tower attracts and absorbs small pollution particles — PM2.5 and PM10 — and blows out clean air, leaving a 75% improvement in the air quality.

The tower is seven-meters high and cleans approximately 30,000 cubic meters of air every hour, the equivalent of “a small neighborhood a day,” notes Roosegaarde. One of its most positive qualities is that it requires only 1,400 watts of power — no more than a tea kettle.

Since the late 1990s, the EPA has required industrial plants to lower their emissions. This led to scrubbers. These pollution reduction devices are capable of removing toxic substances from exhaust streams or may neutralize them into harmless or even recyclable substances.

Another industrial pollution reduction option is Baghouses. These are filtration structures that have been retrofitted to power plants across the country. They catch fine particulates—tiny levels of soot, dirt, and chemicals that damage lungs and create smog. Baghouses are like huge vacuum cleaners. They are lined with fabric filter “bags,” that are routinely cleaned or replaced.

Another type of air pollution reduction device is Bioreactors. This differs from the large-scale devices used in most industrial plants because “scientists are experimenting with tiny, simple living organisms called cyanobacteria that eat polluting carbon dioxide (CO2).” While most living organisms could never survive a smokestack, these algae flourish in the sweltering temperatures of industrial chimneys.

So, researchers designed “bioreactors.” These window-screen membranes are teeming with cyanobacteria and will be installed into power plant smokestacks in the near future. The light needed to sustain the algae would come from fiber- optic cables streaming light across the membranes. The algae will grow inside the chimneys while gorging on CO2 exhaust.

Finally, we can look to a technology that is already up and running: Biodiesel. This fuel alternative comes from any vegetable oil—including recycled vegetable oil from restaurants—and can power most diesel-engine vehicles without modification.

Since 2005, 75 million gallons have been sold in the United States, and many government vehicles use it as fuel. While it burns 78 percent cleaner than oil-based diesel, it is twice as expensive, and availability is scattered. Although only a fraction of US vehicles run on diesel, new fuel-efficient models on the market continue to gain in popularity.

What WE can do to Clean Up Air Pollution

As consumers, we can help by encouraging companies to use the clean air technologies available to them. These companies and corporations are in the business of making money. If consumers stop buying their products because they aren’t taking pollution seriously, they will go down the drain themselves.

We can also help by investing in alternative energy options like wind, solar, and hybrid vehicles. Such investments would not only help in reducing pollution of all kinds, but ultimately, these investments will pay for themselves and save money for Americans in the long-term. We have the power to make positive changes in air pollution!

Original article.

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SXSWECO Panel “Freeing Ourselves From A High Carbon Future”

"Freeing Ourselves From A High Carbon Future" PanelIn Wednesday’s SXSWECO keynote with U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, Jigar Shah urged the crowd to “find some _____ inspiration!” You can guess what was left out. Shah argued much of what the environmental movement lacks in strategy, it can make up with focused rage. If you left the keynote inspired and looking for ways to get involved, Thursday’s session, “Freeing Ourselves From A High Carbon Future,” was a great place to reinvigorate the rage.

Moderated by Kelly Rigg, executive director of the Global Campaign For Climate Action, the talk brought real substance to the often cloudy world of climate activism. Panelists Andrew Behar of As You Sew, Sarah Hodgdon from the Sierra Club, and Tim Nuthall of the European Climate Foundation were on hand to share how their organizations are reshaping some of the narrative around cleaner energy and climate change.

The Carbon Bubble

Rigg opened the session with a few slides that set a sobering backdrop for the discussion. The first was an excerpt from the Carbon Tracker project, showing how much carbon will be “unburnable” if reduction efforts aren’t accelerated. It could be as high as eighty percent if we achieve only twenty percent of our reduction goals.

With reserves driving so much of an oil company’s value, it’s easy to see how models built on extraction could suffer.

Just as provoking was another slide (below) on the “450 scenario,” referring to the need to limit the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to around 450 parts per million of CO2. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that without action, in half a decade we could approach the 450 ratio. “At some point, we’re going to have to start decommissioning things,” said Rigg. “Nobody wants to do that.”

 

The Coal Fight

Sarah Hodgdon turned the discussion to some of Sierra Club’s work around its Beyond Coal campaign, and showed perhaps the slide of the session (below). Almost 170 coal plants have been defeated so far according to Hodgdon, a feat she attributes to the combination of grassroots political savvy, smart legal strategy, and effective communication.

“All those things working together have helped us get one win after another,” she said.

Sierra Club | 168 Coal Plants Defeate

And with coal’s percentage of electricity at its lowest in 30 years, Hodgdon emphasized the need to defend the production tax credit (PTC) along with State renewable energy standards.

She also mentioned how Sierra engages with local communities as renewable solutions continue to supplant coal production.

“We’re also supporting communities affected by coal by helping them make a smooth economic transition as plants close across the country.” Even with Beyond Coal’s success, there’s more collaboration that’s needed.

“It feels like what we’re missing though is a movement, where we’re connecting the dots between the coal and oil efforts.” When asked what was holding up those efforts, she thought much of the policy was in place, but that local issues were soaking up resources and time.

“People are working hard locally, so at times it’s hard to have the cohesion you need at the national level,” she explained.

Targeting Shareholders

Andrew Behar with Bay Area non-profit, As You Sow, is attacking the climate issue by targeting corporate shareholders. With a combination of advocacy and litigation, his team approaches the process both strategically and tactically.

“One of the ways we can make change is to file a shareholder resolution,” said Behar. “We target certain companies and you have to get through the SEC, so often it’s very complex.” And the companies As You Sow is battling are some of the largest in the world. Getting a seat at the table is only half the battle. “When you sit down with these companies — you have a human being there. We get to ask them, do you have kids, do you have grandchildren,” said Behar.

He also mentioned the firm’s focus on divestment, which essentially redirects assets to companies that support cleaner policies and more social responsibility. “You see a lot of activity on campuses, but the thing about these campaigns are they’re very complex.” Behar says many of the investments and funds are shielded under layers and layers of bureaucracy, so enacting change can be cumbersome.

But whether it’s a divestment campaign or simply filing a resolution, Behar stressed the importance of a multi-faceted campaign.

“These companies like Duke Energy and First Energy, they’re the guys that control what’s on the ground. They don’t see things in a short window of time,” he explained. “The key is coordinating all the pieces in a strategic way.” As You Sew says it boils down to five things: grassroots efforts, consumer awareness, litigation, policy and shareholders. The next deployment for Behar’s group will likely be the fracking battleground.

“We think stopping the building of gas plants will be the next big fight, you just can’t do coal anymore because the price isn’t viable. Strategically we need to get the price of gas up. That’s what we’re working on.”

A European Perspective: Roadmap2050

Artifact Via Roadmap2050.eu

Tim Nuthall with the European Climate Foundation had a hopeful, if not fascinating look at the Roadmap2050 project, aimed at helping move along Europe’s goal of 80-90% emissions by 2050. He was armed not just with data, but visually appealing data. Understandable data. For once, it looked like the environmental coalition had more resources than its usual opposition.

“What was impressive was the coalition that stood behind it. McKinsey did the analytics and KEMA led credibility to the solutions which got us into the meetings,” said Nuthall. For visuals, the group worked with a notable architect which he says helped the conversations live well beyond a project that was started in 2010.

As for mobilizing the effort, Nuthall says they ran a number of different models and all of them came to the same conclusion.

“Not surprisingly, what we found was that we needed to decarbonize our power sector.” The analysis looked at the costs of replacing carbon with renewable energy in various increments, from 20% all the way up to a complete phase out. He said the differences were accounted for by using carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear. “We could use both CCS and nuclear because our goal was simply to reduce carbon, rather than single out any one technology,”he explained.

“What we found was the cost of those various scenarios are the same. It was technically feasible and financially doable,” he said. When asked about the political ramifications, he mentioned the data from their energy roadmap was used by the European commission to relay part of its own findings. “So from a political outcome perspective, it was a solid result.”

Roadmap2050 artifact

With a deep political focus, Nuthall’s team covers multiple fronts and is well-versed in what characterizes much of the denier mentality.

“In an European context, I’d characterize the deniers in three ways — disgruntled, ideological, and paid. Quite a heady mix,” he said.

“We’ve seen skepticism be very effective. Look at Poland, a country where 95% of its power runs on coal.” He says opposition to renewables has stood in the way of their proposal, essentially grinding it to a halt. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that power generation in Poland is owned by the government. “In the EU, we need rage in Poland.”

“One Thing As A Game Changer”

Rigg closed the session by asking the panelists to identify the one thing that could be a game changer for connecting the dots. In her view, there aren’t any technology barriers to fixing the problem, it’s political will. “We need to figure out how everyone that takes action in this movement has a way to connect with elected officials. We need to say we will make this an election issue,” she said.

For Hodgdon, it was how activists and environmentalists talk about their work, something she described as “drawing things together under the national narrative.” She urged fracking activists to bridge their communications with other groups targeting coal or oil.

Andrew Behar might have had the most disruptive suggestion, saying he wants to tie sustainability initiatives to executive pay. “Executives today are focused on keeping stock prices stable, quarter-to-quarter. If we have sustainability goals that look two, three, or five years out, corporations would start to shift. Right now it’s a total disconnect.”

Nuthall mentioned a few things. The Poland fight is obviously a big one, as he again mentioned more “rage” is needed. Effective grids was another key point, something that would be critical to keep renewable integration moving forward. Lastly, was a quote that could have been the bumper sticker for the session. “We have to stop taking a spreadsheet to a knife fight. We have to stop fighting ideology with policy.” In other words, the movement needs to get a helluva lot smarter. And fast.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Mention Climate Change

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