Blog: How China is improving its air quality

How China is improving its air quality

How China is improving its air quality

Åsa Ekdahl, Head, Environment and Climate Change

10 January 2019

Dust, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions have an impact on the local and regional environment, and they are also a major source of concern for those living in the neighbourhood of a steel plant. The steel industry is fully aware of these concerns and takes responsibility for managing and controlling these emissions.

Baosteel China

© Baosteel, China

Over the last few decades, substantial improvements have been made to enhance air quality in and around steel operations. Today, to operate, all steel plants need to obtain an environmental permit from the relevant authority. This permit sets limits on emissions, but very often steel plants operate well below these limits.

Poor air quality has been an issue in China for a long time, and efforts to tackle the problem have intensified in recent years. During our latest worldsteel workshop on the theme of air quality held in Zhanjiang, China, our guest speaker from the Chinese Environmental Protection Ministry, Ms ZHAO Chunli, provided insight into China’s 2020 Air Pollution Action Plan and outlined the goals set by the government:

  1. to reduce levels of pollutants in ambient air and thereby reduce harmful health effects
  2. to close polluting and outdated industrial capacity.

These goals are pursued through a series of measures planned at national and regional level; the most notable for the steel industry is the introduction of “ultra-low emission standards” for sinter plants, blast furnaces and coke ovens, which are among the most stringent Emission Limit Values (ELVs) globally, with some going beyond the strictest ELVs adopted anywhere in the world.

New “Ultra-low emission standards” for sinter plants - China

Pollutant (mg/m3) Current standard Ultra-low emission limit
PM 50 10 (16% O2 content)
SO2 200 35 (16% O2 content)
NOx (as NO2) 300 50 (16% O2 content)

The new emission standards are expected to come into force in 2019. However, the Hebei region has already incorporated the new ELVs into their legislation. The goal is for 80% of steel plants to have completed the transformation by 2025 although plants in areas with particularly poor air quality will be required to comply as early as 2020.

Achieving the new ultra-low emission standards implies significantly reducing emissions and will require taking abatement technologies and air emissions management to the next level. 

It is likely that the introduction of new regulations in China will have an impact on the implementation of new techniques and practices at a global level as governments look elsewhere when searching for ways to further improve the performance of their industry.

Add your comment here:

  • 1

    It's an important and good decision. Do you think this will increase de price of steel in next years?

    avatarRicard VidalJan 10, 2019 6:46:50 PMReply

  • 2

    Hi Ricardo - Thanks for your comment. The price of steel is influenced by a multitude of factors and will depend on the overall situation of each producer. Whether the increased costs for environmental protection will have an impact depends, among many other things, on the investments required and of course the overall industrial policy of the government.

    avatarÅsa EkdahlJan 11, 2019 9:46:21 AMReply

  • 3

    From an environmental point of view, i.e. to contain pollution; the ELVs seem to be relevant and may be logical. But I doubt if these may be attainable based on today's technological developments. And even if so, at what cost. Maybe at a cost that may make steel too expensive to afford.

    avatarA C R DasJan 11, 2019 6:55:07 PMReply

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