Air Pollution Control:
Air pollution control, the techniques employed to reduce or eliminate the emission into the atmosphere of substances that can harm the environment
or human health. The control of air pollution is one of the principal areas of pollution control
Air is considered to be polluted when it contains certain substances in concentrations high enough and for durations long enough to cause harm or
undesirable effects. These include adverse effects on human health, property, and atmospheric visibility.The atmosphere is susceptible to pollution
from natural sources as well as from human activities. Some natural phenomena, such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires, may have not only local
and regional effects but also long-lasting global ones. Nevertheless,only pollution caused by human activities, such as industry and transportation,
is subject to mitigation and control.
Most air contaminants originate from combustion processes. During the Middle Ages the burning of coal for fuel caused recurrent air pollution problems
in London and other large European cities. Beginning in the 19th century, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, increasing use of fossil fuels
intensified the severity and frequency of air pollution episodes. The advent of mobile sources of air pollution—i.e., gasoline-powered highway vehicles
had a tremendous impact on air quality problems in cities. It was not until the middle of the 20th century, however, that meaningful and lasting attempts
were made to regulate or limit emissions of air pollutants from stationary and mobile sources and to control air quality on both regional and local scales.
The primary focus of air pollution regulation in industrialized countries has been on protecting ambient, or outdoor, air quality. This involves the control
of a small number of specific “criteria” pollutants known to contribute to urban smog and chronic public health problems. The criteria pollutants include fine
particulates, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and lead. Since the end of the 20th century, there also has been a recognition of the
hazardous effects of trace amounts of many other air pollutants called “air toxics.” Most air toxics are organic chemicals, comprising molecules that contain
carbon, hydrogen, and other atoms. Specific emission regulations have been implemented against those pollutants. In addition, the long-term and far-reaching
effects of the “greenhouse gases” on atmospheric chemistry and climate have been observed, and cooperative international efforts have been undertaken to control
those pollutants. The greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. In 2009 the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency ruled that greenhouse gases posed a threat to human health and could be subject to regulation as air pollutants.
The best way to protect air quality is to reduce the emission of pollutants by changing to cleaner fuels and processes. Pollutants not eliminated in this way must
be collected or trapped by appropriate air-cleaning devices as they are generated and before they can escape into the atmosphere. These devices are described below.
The emphasis of this article is air pollution control technology as it is designed to remove particulate and gaseous pollutants from the emissions of stationary
sources, including power plants and industrial facilities. (The control of air pollution from mobile sources is described in emission-control system.)
Control of particulates:
Airborne particles can be removed from a polluted airstream by a variety of physical processes. Common types of equipment for collecting fine particulates include
cyclones, scrubbers, electrostatic precipitators, and baghouse filters. Once collected, particulates adhere to each other, forming agglomerates that can readily be
removed from the equipment and disposed of, usually in a landfill.
Because each air pollution control project is unique, it is usually not possible to decide in advance what the best type of particle-collection device (or combination
of devices) will be; control systems must be designed on a case-by-case basis. Important particulate characteristics that influence the selection of collection devices
include corrosivity, reactivity, shape, density, and especially size and size distribution (the range of different particle sizes in the airstream). Other design factors
include airstream characteristics (e.g., pressure, temperature, and viscosity), flow rate, removal efficiency requirements, and allowable resistance to airflow. In
general, cyclone collectors are often used to control industrial dust emissions and as pre-cleaners for other kinds of collection devices. Wet scrubbers are usually
applied in the control of flammable or explosive dusts or mists from such sources as industrial and chemical processing facilities and hazardous-waste incinerators; they
can handle hot airstreams and sticky particles. Electrostatic precipitators and fabric-filter baghouses are often used at power plants.
A cyclone removes particulates by causing the dirty airstream to flow in a spiral path inside a cylindrical chamber. Dirty air enters the chamber from a tangential direction
at the outer wall of the device, forming a vortex as it swirls within the chamber. The larger particulates, because of their greater inertia, move outward and are forced
against the chamber wall. Slowed by friction with the wall surface, they then slide down the wall into a conical dust hopper at the bottom of the cyclone. The cleaned air
swirls upward in a narrower spiral through an inner cylinder and emerges from an outlet at the top. Accumulated particulate dust is periodically removed from the hopper for
Cyclones are best at removing relatively coarse particulates. They can routinely achieve efficiencies of 90 percent for particles larger than about 20 micrometres (?m; 20
millionths of a metre). By themselves, however, cyclones are not sufficient to meet stringent air quality standards. They are typically used as pre-cleaners and are followed
by more efficient air-cleaning equipment such as electrostatic precipitators and baghouses (described below).
Devices called wet scrubbers trap suspended particles by direct contact with a spray of water or other liquid. In effect, a scrubber washes the particulates out of the dirty
airstream as they collide with and are entrained by the countless tiny droplets in the spray.Several configurations of wet scrubbers are in use. In a spray-tower scrubber, an upward-flowing airstream is washed by water sprayed downward from a series of nozzles. The water is recirculated after it is sufficiently cleaned to prevent clogging of the nozzles. Spray-tower scrubbers can remove 90 percent of particulates larger than about 8 ?m.
In orifice scrubbers and wet-impingement scrubbers, the air-and-droplet mixture collides with a solid surface. Collision with a surface atomizes the droplets, reducing droplet
size and thereby increasing total surface contact area. These devices have the advantage of lower water-recirculation rates, and they offer removal efficiencies of about 90 percent for particles larger than 2 ?m.
Venturi scrubbers are the most efficient of the wet collectors, achieving efficiencies of more than 98 percent for particles larger than 0.5 ?m in diameter. Scrubber efficiency
depends on the relative velocity between the droplets and the particulates. Venturi scrubbers achieve high relative velocities by injecting water into the throat of a venturi channel —a constriction in the flow path—through which particulate-laden air is passing at high speed.
Electrostatic precipitation is a commonly used method for removing fine particulates from airstreams. In an electrostatic precipitator, particles suspended in the airstream are given an electric charge as they enter the unit and are then removed by the influence of an electric field. The precipitation unit comprises baffles for distributing airflow, discharge and collection electrodes, a dust clean-out system, and collection hoppers. A high voltage of direct current (DC), as much as 100,000 volts, is applied to the discharge electrodes to charge the particles, which then are attracted to oppositely charged collection electrodes, on which they become trapped.
In a typical unit the collection electrodes comprise a group of large rectangular metal plates suspended vertically and parallel to each other inside a boxlike structure. There are often hundreds of plates having a combined surface area of tens of thousands of square metres. Rows of discharge electrode wires hang between the collection plates. The wires are given a negative electric charge, whereas the plates are grounded and thus become positively charged.
Particles that stick to the collection plates are removed periodically when the plates are shaken, or “rapped.” Rapping is a mechanical technique for separating the trapped particles from the plates, which typically become covered with a 6-mm (0.2-inch) layer of dust. Rappers are either of the impulse (single-blow) or vibrating type. The dislodged particles are collected in a hopper at the bottom of the unit and removed for disposal. An electrostatic precipitator can remove particulates as small as 1 ?m with an efficiency exceeding 99 percent. The effectiveness of electrostatic precipitators in removing fly ash from the combustion gases of fossil-fuel furnaces accounts for their high frequency of use at power stations.
One of the most efficient devices for removing suspended particulates is an assembly of fabric-filter bags, commonly called a baghouse. A typical baghouse comprises an array of long, narrow bags—each about 25 cm (10 inches) in diameter—that are suspended upside down in a large enclosure. Dust-laden air is blown upward through the bottom of the enclosure by fans. Particulates are trapped inside the filter bags, while the clean air passes through the fabric and exits at the top of the baghouse.
A fabric-filter dust collector can remove very nearly 100 percent of particles as small as 1 ?m and a significant fraction of particles as small as 0.01 ?m. Fabric filters, however, offer relatively high resistance to airflow, which leads to substantial energy usage for the fan system. In addition, in order to prolong the useful life of the filter fabric, the air to be cleaned must be cooled (usually below 300 °C [570 °F]) before it is passed through the unit; cooling coils needed for this purpose add to the energy usage. (Certain filter fabrics—e.g., those made of ceramic or mineral materials—can operate at higher temperatures.)
Several compartments of filter bags are often used at a single baghouse installation. This arrangement allows individual compartments to be cleaned while others remain in service. The bags are cleaned by removing the excess layer of surface dust. This is done in several different ways: by mechanically shaking them; by temporarily reversing the flow of air and causing them to collapse; or by sending a short burst of air down through the bag, causing it to briefly expand. After the dust is removed from the filters, it falls into a hopper below and can be collected for disposal or further use. Care must be taken not to remove too much of the built-up surface dust, or “dust cake,” when cleaning the filters. In most filter types the filter itself is only a substrate that allows for the formation of a layer of dust cake, which then captures the majority of the particulates. Filters with an applied membrane coating such as polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon) do not require the use of dust cake to operate at their highest efficiency.
Control of gases:
Gaseous criteria pollutants, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other gaseous air toxics, are controlled by means of three basic techniques: absorption, adsorption, and incineration (or combustion). These techniques can be employed singly or in combination. They are effective against the major greenhouse gases as well. In addition, a fourth technique, known as carbon sequestration, is in development as a means of controlling carbon dioxide levels.
In the context of air pollution control, absorption involves the transfer of a gaseous pollutant from the air into a contacting liquid, such as water. The liquid must be able either to serve as a solvent for the pollutant or to capture it by means of a chemical reaction.