The Lehigh University’s Energy Research Center (ERC) is working on solving the problem of anthropogenic mercury emissions. These emissions usually come from coal-fired plants, cement kilns, industrial boilers, waste incinerators, and steel mills. All of these have the side effect of releasing mercury into the air and waterways.
Lehigh graduate students Guanrong Song, Julio Bravo, Lida Yan, and Tanumoy Banerjee are working on this, and the project is being led by research scientist Zheng Yao. The team has been working on the development of alternative sorbents that would absorb mercury in flue gases, with their work including lab and field tests.
In partnership with Blaschak Coal Corp., the ERC team has worked on creating a high mercury-capturing capacity sorbent that is made from anthracite via a multi-stage activation process. Blaschak wants to find non-energy use of anthracite, and the research team has identified a key source of it from Blaschak’s manufacturing process.
Using synthesized activated carbon, the researchers have found that their experiments in the lab with mercury resulted in competitive adsorption capacities — with and without halogenation. Over the course of several weeks, a slipstream test campaign was carried out at Covanta’s Lancaster waste-to-energy facility. Here, anthracite-based sorbents as well as several commercial sorbents were tested under real flue gas conditions. This reportedly achieved excellent results.
Editor’s note: This is a sort of tricky topic to cover. On the one hand, there are coal plants operating that are emitting deadly levels of mercury emissions, and cleaning those up would be a good, small step forward. On the other hand, this kind of development, or highlighting it, can make people think it’s not so urgent to shut down coal power plants — it is so urgent. It’s good to clean up some of the pollution, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cut all of the pollution ASAP.