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Power Plant Emissions At Four Corners Sites Verified Remotely From Space — First Study To Do So

The emissions from two very large coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners area of northwest New Mexico were recently measured remotely via space-based techniques by researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Four Corners coal-fired power plant, near Farmington, NM is a major source of pollutants, with measurements confirmed by Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers. Image Credit: DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

The Four Corners coal-fired power plant, near Farmington, NM is a major source of pollutants, with measurements confirmed by Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers. Image Credit: DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

The study represents the first time that such space-based techniques have been shown to “successfully verify international regulations on fossil energy emissions.” The study was also able to distinguish that emissions from the San Juan Generating Station are actually less polluting than those from the nearby Four Corners Generating Station.

“A critical barrier to any future international treaty aimed towards controlling greenhouse and pollutant gas emissions is our inability to verify inventories and reduction of emissions claimed by individual nations following implementation of new technologies,” stated LANL senior scientist Manvendra Dubey.

Stressing that “in-stack monitoring of power-plant emissions is mandatory in the United States, and they are reported to the EPA to comply with the US Clean Air Act, allowing us to test how well our verification method worked.”

In order to verify the emissions figures from the San Juan and Four Corners coal-fired power plants, the researchers utilized “ground-based solar spectrometers and point sensors to measure atmospheric concentrations of gases at a site close to these power plants.”

With the verification technique now shown to be accurate, Dubey notes that it will be easier to see if the energy technology upgrades emissions reported by China and India are accurate.

“Using satellite-based remote-sensing equipment can allow scientists, and therefore policymakers, to determine with accuracy whether CO2, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides detected in the vicinity are truly from the plant, or from other sources,” stated researcher Rodica Lindenmaier, first author of the new paper detailing the work.

Something to note — the isotopic 13C composition of the CO2 measured was identified, allowing for emissions from coal-fired power plants to be “finger-printed” and matched with specific sources.

Something else as well — the study also found that 75% of the atmosphere (~10 km) in the region containing these two (very big) coal plants is polluted. Certainly not a surprise, but just goes to show that China isn’t the only country with a coal-caused air-pollution problem, even in the US it’s an issue.

Given the great costs to human-health of coal-fired power plants, hopefully these plants will be phased out at some point in the near future — especially when you consider the region’s great solar potential.

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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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