Articles | Volume 15, issue 8
Research article
29 Apr 2015
Research article |  | 29 Apr 2015

Evaluating the effects of China's pollution controls on inter-annual trends and uncertainties of atmospheric mercury emissions

Y. Zhao, H. Zhong, J. Zhang, and C. P. Nielsen

Abstract. China's anthropogenic emissions of atmospheric mercury (Hg) are effectively constrained by national air pollution control and energy efficiency policies. In this study, improved methods, based on available data from domestic field measurements, are developed to quantify the benefits of Hg abatement by various emission control measures. Those measures include increased use of (1) flue gas desulfurization (FGD) and selective catalyst reduction (SCR) systems in power generation; (2) precalciner kilns with fabric filters (FF) in cement production; (3) mechanized coking ovens with electrostatic precipitators (ESP) in iron and steel production; and (4) advanced production technologies in nonferrous metal smelting. Investigation reveals declining trends in emission factors for each of these sources, which together drive a much slower growth of total Hg emissions than the growth of China's energy consumption and economy, from 679 metric tons (t) in 2005 to 750 t in 2012. In particular, estimated emissions from the above-mentioned four source types declined 3% from 2005 to 2012, which can be attributed to expanded deployment of technologies with higher energy efficiencies and air pollutant removal rates. Emissions from other anthropogenic sources are estimated to increase by 22% during the period. The species shares of total Hg emissions have been stable in recent years, with mass fractions of around 55, 39, and 6% for gaseous elemental Hg (Hg0), reactive gaseous mercury (Hg2+), and particle-bound mercury (Hgp), respectively. The higher estimate of total Hg emissions than previous inventories is supported by limited simulation of atmospheric chemistry and transport. With improved implementation of emission controls and energy saving, a 23% reduction in annual Hg emissions from 2012 to 2030, to below 600 t, is expected at the most. While growth in Hg emissions has been gradually constrained, uncertainties quantified by Monte Carlo simulation for recent years have increased, particularly for the power sector and particular industrial sources. The uncertainty (expressed as 95% confidence intervals) of Hg emissions from coal-fired power plants, for example, increased from −48–+73% in 2005 to −50–+89% in 2012. This is attributed mainly to increased penetration of advanced manufacturing and pollutant control technologies; the unclear operational status and relatively small sample sizes of field measurements of those processes have resulted in lower but highly varied emission factors. To reduce uncertainty and further confirm the benefits of pollution control and energy polices, therefore, systematic investigation of specific Hg pollution sources is recommended. The variability of temporal trends and spatial distributions of Hg emissions needs to be better tracked during the ongoing dramatic changes in China's economy, energy use, and air pollution status.

Short summary
China’s atmospheric Hg emissions of anthropogenic origin have been effectively restrained through the national policy of air pollution control. Expansion of technologies with high energy efficiencies and air pollutant removal rates leads to a much slower growth of Hg emissions than that of energy and economy. However, increased uncertainties of Hg emissions are quantified from 2005 to 2012, attributed to the unclear operation status or small sample size of field tests on those technologies.
Final-revised paper