Oceanic Mercury Comes From Coal Burning, Immediate Techno Fix Priced Out Of Reach?, We’ve Got An App For That
Over my lifetime I have surely noticed the increasing number of reports on mercury in fish.
Almost everyone now knows that top of the food chain fish predators in the oceans like swordfish, sailfish, big tuna, and even smaller species like Mahi Mahi often have dangerously high mercury content. Even some smaller fish are showing up with high mercury. Scientists looking at old specimens of fish find no corresponding high mercury levels so this mercury is new to our world. Where is it coming from.
I was not especially aware of the source of mercury in the oceans and fish until a couple years ago. I was at a scientific conference put on by the Electric Power Research Institute where I used to do a fair bit of work. They infected me with a Geeky interest in the electric utility industry science and technology so I follow it as a personal interest. At the conference I attended there was a German professor presenting a paper on a clever new way to capture mercury from coal fired power plant smokestacks.
What I was shocked to learn was that it is the vast increase in burning of coal that is sending horrifying amounts of mercury into the air. Coal is a very special substance, just like the charcoal filter in your under-sink water filter or Britta water pitcher coal captures all sorts of toxic stuff, mercury especially. When coal is burned the mercury is vaporized and up the smoke stack it goes. Now there are many means of trying to capture some of that smoke stack mercury but they methods are not very good at it.
Enter the clever German chemist who knows that the problem with catching mercury in a smokestack is that it needs to be easy and cheap or those burning coal just won’t do the job. He employs some of his “little gray cells” as Poirot would say and voila he try’s bromine instead of chlorine as an additive to bind with the mercury as it burns. The present state of the art is using chlorine. Once the mercury is bound to either Cl or Br it is rather easily scrubbed from the smokestack gases.
To put this into some understandable perspective the problem is getting worse in a very big way. The global coal fired power generating capacity was estimated at 1.3 million MW in 2006 which rose to 1.7 million MW in 2011 and is estimated to reach a level of around 2.1 million MW by 2018 growing at around 3% per year, from 2012 to 2018. It keeps growing at that rate at least for decades, that’s 30% more each decade. So by 2028 we will see about 2.8 million MW of coal and mercury fired power, by 2038 it will be 3.6 million MW, and 2050 it will be 4.6 million MW…. that’s 3 times today levels.
The CO2 emissions are terrible but they pale in comparison to the mercury. Can we continue to poison ourselves at this ever increasing rate? Can we do it when there is a solution at hand?Something must be done about the mercury! Ocean plants grown on carefully stewarded ocean pastures might just manage the problem.
So the revolutionary part of this is that when bromine is used the efficiency of removing the mercury from the smokestack gases goes up by 25 times or more. WOW, now that is a dramatic breakthrough. So is it being used and keeping our tuna fish sandwiches safe to feed our children. I ate countless in my school lunch bags and still love them. But the idea that if I eat more than one a week I may suffer mercury poisoning is a bitter bite to swallow.
Is the world of coal sticking a little bromine in with their coal to make the removal of mercury 25 times better. NO!
As it turns out there are patents and very demanding patent royalties on this notion of adding bromine to coal to enhance removal of mercury. You don’t even have to buy bromine as a chemical a coal fired power plant could buy bromine rich vegetation, as in biofuel, and accomplish the task. That task NOT KILLING ALL THE FISH AND US WITH MERCURY POISONING.
In the world of making energy and supplying revolutionary technology to make energy production less deadly they have a rule. MAKE AS MUCH MONEY AS YOU CAN, maybe save a little world on the side. In that order.
Want to know what is the cheapest most abundant source of biofuel that is jam packed with bromine…. guess where it grows….in ocean pastures! We have at hand for immediate use the cure for mercury poisoning of the oceans. Do we have the will to save the oceans from mercury. That is the question.
It ain’t easy being green.