Under surveillance

26th August 2016


Related Topics

Related tags

  • Business & Industry ,
  • Agriculture ,
  • Built environment ,
  • Energy ,
  • Manufacturing


Luke Fitzsimmons

Monitoring emissions to air and water is key to complying with environmental permits. the environmentalist looks at recent developments, including the possible implications of Brexit

Legislation, standards and technology are vital players in the effective monitoring of emissions to air, water and land.

The decision of UK voters to reject continuing EU membership could have implications for all of these, among them permit conditions for installations covered by the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which recast seven directives, including the one on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC). The conditions refer to ‘best available techniques’ (BAT) for the site or installation and the measures to be followed to prevent or minimise emissions and their impact on the environment. BAT conclusions – which are mandatory in the permitting process and derogations harder to obtain – cover associated monitoring and reference documents, commonly known as BREFs. These may contain emission limits (BAT AELs) that operators must comply with.

Standards, though voluntary, could also be affected by the UK leaving the EU. These set best practice and ensure the quality of monitoring equipment and systems. Advances in software, including the emergence of apps and technology such as miniature sensors, fuel the development of new equipment (see p23) but regulation, much of it derived from Brussels, also drives system innovation.

Brexit may have implications for the development of standards, although BSI is aiming to remain in CEN

Brexit effect?

Dave Curtis, director at the Source Testing Association (STA), which represents more than 200 organisations, ranging from process operators, regulators, and equipment suppliers to test laboratories, says Brexit and its implications for monitoring industrial emissions has been a topic of conversation, including in meetings with the Environment Agency. But the consensus is business as usual. ‘The view is that we continue to comply as long as the UK is a member of the EU,’ he says.

Nonetheless, it is a European Commission-led system, the Sevilla process, that produces BREFs. Lawyers at Clifford Chance say that, post Brexit, the government could revert to the cost-benefit model that operated under the UK integrated permitting regime before the IPPC Directive (now part of the IED) was enacted. ‘Given that BREFs would no longer formally apply, the UK might also have to design a whole new set of technical guidance,’ they warn.

Curtis believes it is unlikely that the UK will develop its own set of BREFs, not least because Defra and the Environment Agency do not have the resources to do so: ‘The majority of BREFs are complete and I would expect people in the UK to keep using them.’

Indeed, most BREFs have been or are being finalised. The implementing decision establishing the BAT conclusions for the non-ferrous metals industry (2016/1032) and the wastewater and waste gas treatment/management systems in the chemical sector (2016/902) were published in the Official Journal of the European Union in June. The draft BREF on large combustion plants (LCP) was issued on 28 June; comment must be in by 23 September. Meanwhile, work on the revised BREF on waste incineration is expected to be complete next year.

Currently, 31 BREFs (plus two reference documents) have been developed under the IPPC Directive and the IED, ranging from ceramic manufacturing to the production wood-based panelling. BREFs are legally binding under the IED. The Seville-based, European IPPC Bureau (EIPPCB), which co-ordinates work on generating a BREF, says the development of the documents at EU level is considered to be an efficient exercise because, in their absence, every member state would have to conduct one.

These documents take several years to finalise and tend to be lengthy. The BREFs for the production of cement, lime and magnesium oxide and the production of pulp, paper and board run to 506 and 906 pages respectively, while the draft document for waste treatement stretches to 1,030 pages.

BREFs are used by competent authorities in member states, such as the Environment Agency in the UK, to determine operating permits for installations that represent a significant pollution risk. These include information on monitoring. Environmental permitting regulations refer to BAT conclusions and BREFs, and require the regulator to ensure that it takes into account developments in best available techniques and new or updated BAT conclusions when setting permit conditions.

One facet of the BREFs process that could suffer from Brexit is the role and influence of UK experts. For each BREF, the EIPPCB sets up a technical working group (TWG) to exchange information on BATs. Each TWG consists of technical experts representing member states, industries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that promote environmental protection and the representatives of the European Commission. To participate in the information exchange, members must be nominated according to their technical, economic, environmental and regulatory expertise, especially in permitting or inspecting industrial installations. Also important is their ability to bring to the table the BREF end-user perspective.

Reciprocity of market access across 33 CEN countries frees UK industry from unnecessary trading burdens

The group usually consists of between 40 and 100 experts, and their work generally lasts up to three years. Marianne Wenning, director for quality of life, water and air at DG Environment, reported last year that the TWG for the LCP BREF review comprised 270 experts, 580 plant level questionnaires, reports and site visits, and 8,500 comments on the first draft, which was published in 2013. UK involvement has been extensive: 500 comments have been contributed to the original ‘wish list’, data has come from about 40 plants, and representatives of Sepa and energy companies, among others, have also provided input.

BAT conclusions are based on techniques already used by the relevant sector, such as the mechanical and biological treatment of rubbish in the waste industry. The BREF documents also refer to emerging techniques that, if commercially developed, could provide the same or higher general level of protection of the environment and more cost savings than prevailing BATs. These novel methods may eventually become BATs themselves.

UK involvement in the Sevilla process after Brexit would be curtailed and its influence diminished. This would be the case even if the UK joins the European Economic Area.

Directives such as the IED would continue to apply, but the UK would have little influence over new rules. Business organisations, including BDI in Germany, want changes to the BREF process but Brexit could exclude the UK from talks.

Setting standards

The Environment Agency’s Monitoring Certification Scheme (MCERTS) provides guidelines on the standards site operators need to meet to monitor processes that affect the environment and ensure compliance with EU legislation. The scheme covers monitoring equipment and competence of staff.

Most of the requirements under MCERTS comply with European or international standards. For example, the performance standards, test procedures and general requirements for CEMs comply with CEN standard EN 15267. CEN is the European Committee for Standardization and it is mandatory for European member states to adopt its standards and to withdraw any of their own that conflict.

Brexit may have implications for the development of standards. CEN and CENELEC (the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization) bring together the standards agencies of 33 countries and work with the commission to ensure benchmarks correspond with EU legislation. BSI, the British standards organisation, is a full member of CEN and CENELEC. It has stressed that while negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU continue it is business as usual, including all aspects of its standards making, policy and strategy work. ‘BSI’s ambition is that the UK should continue to participate in the European standardisation system,’ it said in a statement. ‘We are confident that a UK exit from the EU will not affect BSI’s membership of ISO [International Organization for Standardization], IEC [International Electrotechnical Commission] and ETSI [European Telecommunications Standards Institute].’

In a post-referendum webinar, BSI director of standards Scott Steedman confirmed that the body did not expect its relationship with its European partners to change in the short term. ‘UK experts have input into European standards and have a say into which international ones are adopted by CEN and CENELEC. This will remain the case,’ he said. His colleague, national and European policy manager Richard Collin, reported that more than 500 UK experts were either committee chairs or convenors of working groups.

Curtis points out that a country can be a member of CEN without being in the EU. As well as the national standardisation bodies in the 28 EU countries, CEN members include Macedonia, Turkey and the three countries in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA): Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Collin says BSI will remain in CEN and CENELEC should the UK join the EEA or EFTA. If the UK were to default to World Trade Organization rules, changes to CEN/CENELEC statutes would probably be necessary to allow BSI to remain a member of both bodies. ‘Much will depend on the political settlement,’ says Steedman, emphasising that BSI has no plans to bring back British standards that have been supplanted by European ones.

A complete departure from the EU would put at risk UK input into the development of standards for emissions monitoring equipment. One such advance is the proposed CEN standard for predictive emission monitoring systems (PEMS), which are used primarily to determine NOx emissions from combustion processes. Representatives from a number of European countries, including the UK, are drafting it. BSI has asked working group chairs and convenors to report any problems they encounter.

Going it alone

China and India are the emerging – and potentially big – markets for suppliers of emissions monitoring testing services and equipment, says Curtis. Indeed, the STA is helping officials in India compile guidance notes. However, a complete break from the EU would be risky for UK firms, although most UK-based suppliers of emissions monitoring equipment and services are now owned by multinationals.

In the BSI webinar, Steedman warned that any divergence from single market standards would add to industry costs. ‘Reciprocity of market access across 33 countries frees UK industry from unnecessary trading burdens,’ he said.

Changing technology

The Environment Agency’s Monitoring Certification Scheme (MCERTS) ensures equipment is of the required standard to comply with legislation and warns process operators on what to avoid when buying systems. CSA Group operates the MCERTS scheme on behalf of the agency. The Deeside-based company maintains a register of all MCERTS products for:

  • continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS);
  • continuous ambient air monitoring systems (CAMS);
  • CAMS and MCERTS for UK particulate matter (Defra approval);
  • indicative ambient particulate monitors; portable emission monitoring systems;
  • continuous water monitoring systems; part 1 – automatic water sampling equipment; part 2 – online analysers; and part 3 – water flowmeters;
  • portable water monitoring equipment; and
  • environmental data management software.

CSA told the environmentalist in August that 198 products had received MCERTS over the past 12 months and that the average number of certifications in each of the past three years was 183. These figures indicate the scale of innovation in the sector.

Most of the progress in emissions monitoring equipment are in computerisation and data gathering, says Dave Curtis at the Source Testing Association. Many changes are in response to regulatory demands or to address specific problems. Delegates at the emissions monitoring conference CEM 2016 in Lisbon in May were told that the proposed PEMS standard (see above) would be important for regulatory emissions reporting in Europe. Rick Hackney, principal performance engineer at Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery, said a regulatory framework had been in place in the US for many years, where PEMS was widely used. However, its principles are now being adopted in the UK.

Siemens is trialling a prototype PEMS system alongside a CEMS at a National Grid site to assess its suitability in predicting nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide over a range of operating and ambient conditions, comparing them with actual values taken by a dedicated CEMS. Hackney said the minimum expectation was that the prototype PEMS should deliver results in line with the requirements for CEMS in annex 5 Pt III of the Industrial Emissions Directive.

Australian company Ecotech announced in March the launch of its direct nitrogen dioxide (NO2) analyser. It described the cavity-attenuated phase shift technology in the Serinus 60 as a ‘game changer’ and said concern about poor air quality in cities had shifted attention to monitoring NO2 pollution. ‘Never has measurement of NO2 been more important, or higher on the agenda, for environmental protection,’ said managing director Nicholas Dal Sasso. ‘NO2 is one of the four criteria gases that must be monitored and measured worldwide, precisely because of its harmful nature.’

The growing use of smart devices has prompted the development of monitoring apps. In June, Finnish company Gasmet announced that its app gas monitoring was available free on both iOS and Android smartphones. It contains a link to a library of information on more than 500 compounds. A dew point calculator predicts water and sulphuric acid concentrations provided by the user, helping stack testers and process engineers prevent problems relating to sample condensation.

Antti Heikkilä, export manager at Gasmet Europe, says the app provides users of the firm’s FTIR analysers with fast access to commonly requested information. It can also be used in emissions monitoring, regardless of the analyser.

Transform articles

Thirsty business for data centres

Data centres are expected to see explosive growth in the next few years, but the industry is under fire for its water usage. Huw Morris reports

26th November 2021

Read more

The Environment Agency has successfully prosecuted Southern Water for thousands of illegal raw sewage discharges that polluted rivers and coastal waters in Kent, resulting in a record £90m fine.

23rd September 2021

Read more

In Elliott-Smith v Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the claimant applied for judicial review of the legality of the defendants’ joint decision to create the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (UK ETS) as a substitute for UK participation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS).

30th July 2021

Read more

Thames Water has been fined £4m after untreated sewage escaped from sewers below London into a park and a river.

30th July 2021

Read more

None of England’s water and sewerage companies achieved all environmental expectations for the period 2015 to 2020, the Environment Agency has revealed. These targets included the reduction of total pollution incidents by at least one-third compared with 2012, and for incident self-reporting to be at least 75%.

30th July 2021

Read more

Global greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are projected to increase by 4% over the next 10 years, despite the carbon intensity of production declining. That is according to a new report from the UN food agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which forecasts that 80% of the increase will come from livestock.

30th July 2021

Read more

Half of consumers worldwide now consider the sustainability of food and drink itself, not just its packaging, when buying, a survey of 14,000 shoppers across 18 countries has discovered. This suggests that their understanding of sustainability is evolving to include wellbeing and nutrition, with sustainable packaging now considered standard.

30th July 2021

Read more

Billions of people worldwide have been unable to access safe drinking water and sanitation in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a progress report from the World Health Organisation focusing on the UN’s sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) – to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030”.

30th July 2021

Read more

New jobs that help drive the UK towards net-zero emissions are set to offer salaries that are almost one-third higher than those in carbon-intensive industries, research suggests.

5th July 2021

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert