By Brian E Clark
MADISON – The potential market for monitoring mercury emissions and remediation to keep the poison from getting into the environment is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
That was the assessment of three businesses interviewed here Tuesday at the huge International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant. The gathering, which kicked off Sunday evening and runs through Friday, has attracted more than 1,000 participants – the majority of them scientists attending research presentations.
But there are also a smattering of consultants and equipment makers at the conference who are making pitches to sell their wares and services to both scientists who study the pollutant and industries that must cut emissions in coming years.
One company, Port Edwards’ ERCO Worldwide, is poised to spend at least $50 million to cut the mercury coming from its chemical plant. The facility is now the largest mercury polluter in the state. Officials said they may make the switch from their mercury-based technology if they can a break from state regulators on electric rates to offset part of the cost.
Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) said his group supports reducing or eliminating mercury emissions from coal-fired plants, even if it means consumers must foot the bill.
Industry officials also say they support the idea. Their only major concern is that Wisconsin not have standards that are stricter — hence, more expensive — than neighboring states.
“Mercury is a toxic pollutant and needs to be dealt with,” said Higley. “We support efforts to make power plants cleaner.”
Carl Hensman, a principal with Seattle-based Frontier GeoSciences Inc., described his firm as an “innovator of technologies” that understands business deadlines, structures and results.
“There is a profit to be made in this,” he said. “That’s why we are here.”
He said his firm has worked with the Electric Power Research Institute and utilities to help them deal with the new mercury emission rules for coal-fired power plants. The regulations were published by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in March of 2005. When the rules came out, they were criticized by environmentalists and some states for being watered down.
Hensman said one of the options under the regulations – depending on how they are ultimately interpreted – would use the cap-and-trade system of credits that companies could buy and sell. This method would give firms a financial incentive to reduce mercury emissions, he said.
“It would put an economic driver on the pollutant,” he said.
Hensman said he is optimistic that new technologies will take more mercury from utilities’ coal-fired power plants before it leaves that smokestack, pollutes lakes and streams and ultimately ends up in fish.
“We don’t do production ourselves, though,” he said. “We leverage intellectual property. We are to go-to guys for the new stuff and deal with companies around the globe.”
David Pfeil, a product manager for Teledyne Instruments/Leeman Labs, said the market for his company’s monitoring equipment is relatively small and worth only several million dollars a year.
But it would have been more, he grumbled, if the Bush administration had not lowered standards for mercury controls.
“They definitely watered things down and moved dates back, all of which lessens the demand for our stuff as well as the people who make remediation equipment,” he said. “The driver for this is the regulations.”
Frank Schaedlich, vice president for research and development at Tekran, Inc., said he sold his company and its ultra-trace mercury monitory technology to TSI Instruments a year ago.
“It happened because the EPA came out with its rules for air monitoring from coal-fired plants,” he said, declining to disclose what TSI paid for his firm.
Schaedlich said more than 1,100 plants will need to install monitoring equipment by 2010 and that will not come cheaply. He said the rules require plants to reduce mercury emissions by 60 percent come 2018.
“It’s a huge pot of money in monitoring and even more in remediation,” he said. “I would guess several hundred million dollars at least. But even for monitoring, it will be millions for each stack.”