The impact of the energy industry on the environment is a crucial aspect of existing energy technology and an important driver for the development of new “Clean” energy technology with a smaller impact. Since the 1970’s the list of pollutants with air and water emission limits have grown while those limits have been steadily reduced. The increasing quality of life for the population and the beneficial impact on habitats for plants and animals ensures that this trend will continue.
Water and Wastewater Treatment
Water quality was one of the first issues that drove legislators to craft comprehensive national legislation to improve the quality of water resources. This effort continues to enjoy broad growth as the protection of natural water resources is increasingly linked with both safe drinking water and the treatment of wastewater.
The technology for water treatment and purification has continued to evolve, with far more efficient methods emerging in the large-scale market, and exciting new modular technologies appearing at the small end of the market. Together, these growing capabilities promise to continue improving flexibility of planners to improve the quality of water at a low cost.
Air Quality and Emission Mitigation
Air quality is by several orders of magnitude the most significant environmental issue confronting refineries and power generation facilities, so control and reduction of pollution has long been a central challenge for the energy industry. Since power facilities are the most visible component, that segment receives most of the scrutiny.
Air quality can be improved in power facilities either through adding additional control equipment to the output stream, or improving the design of the generation facility itself to improve the efficiency of operation. Both methods can have a strong positive impact, with many new power plant designs being developed to clean the effluent during the operation of the power facility, thus reducing the need for additional scrubbers, which reduce the efficiency of the power facility.
With the concerns about Global Warming increasing, the reduction of CO2 emissions from power generation facilities that burn fossil fuels have gained a prominent position in the power industry. A growing consensus of people in the industry believes that the reduction of CO2 will come to impact the power industry in a major way in the coming years. This has brought forth many technological options to capture the CO2 emerging from a power facility and pipe it into long-term, underground facilities (sequestration). Technology to capture CO2 has existed for many years—what are being developed now are efficient processes that can reliably do it on a large scale in real world conditions cheaply. With the continued use of fossil fuels (especially coal) understood, the sequestration of CO2 will both reduce the global impact of existing fossil fuel technologies and increase the cost of these so that renewable energy technologies will receive a comparative benefit for choosing new sources of energy.