Desulfurization and Climate Change Mitigation

sulfur pits

Sulfur is an abundant element in the universe and on earth. The compound is a byproduct of the refinement processes of fossil fuels to energy sources like gasoline and other fuels. This process is important because if sulfur is not removed during the refinement process, it can end up in the atmosphere from fuel emissions, mix with the atmosphere and create acid rain:

“Sulfur compounds represent one of the most common impurities present in the crude oil. Sulfur in liquid fuel oil leads directly to the emission of SO2 and sulfate particulate matter (SPM) that endangers public health and community property; and reduces the life of the engine due to corrosion”

 Royal Society of Chemistry

Therefore desulphurization is a crucial component to climate change mitigation, improve air quality, and protect the environment. 

In fact, desulfurization is so important to the fight against climate change that the United Nations shipping agency, International Maritime Organization (IMO) is banning ships from using fuels with a sulfur content above 0.5% starting this month, January 2020. The previous threshold for sulfur content in shipping fuel was 3.5%. The entire shipping industry is therefore hard pressed to find better, more effective and affordable ways to desulfurize their fuels. 

Desulphurization Technologies

The most common desulfurization technologies used today include the following:

1. Hydrodesulfurization (HDS)

Hydrodesulfurization, which uses chemical catalysts at a high temperature and pressure to remove sulfur is the most commonly used method in the petroleum industry to reduce sulfur content of crude oil. 

2. Adsorptive desulfurization

Adsorptive desulfurization is a process where a solid sorbent adsorbs organosulfur compounds from oil. There are various types of adsorptive processes and a variety of materials used. The efficacy of each depends on properties like adsorption capacity, durability, and regenerability. 

3. Microbial desulfurization

Microbial desulfurization has been around since the 1950’s, but is less common than other desulfurization methods due to the fact that anaerobic microbial desulfurization processes because it would not produce as much sulfate by product, which would also have to be processed and disposed of. 

4. Flue gas desulfurization (or scrubbing)

Flue gas desulfurization (FGD) or scrubbing is a system of technologies that removes harmful components from exhaust gases. There are two main scrubbers “systems” : wet scrubbing (spraying a liquid substance through gas), or gas scrubbing (introducing a solid substance to the gas). 

“Both of these methods work similarly and perform the same process of removing pollutants. The main difference is the materials they use to filter the gases. By removing acidic gases from the exhaust before it is released into the sky, scrubbers help prevent the formation of acid rain.”

Energy Education 

The conclusion is that no matter what process is used, there is a rising demand for better, more efficient, and cost effective desulfurization technologies to combat the use of dirty fuel and dangerous pollutants. Even though the transformation to clean energy sources like wind power, solar power, biofuels, and more are on the rise, there is an ever increasing demand for innovative solutions around sustainable energy. 

January 9, 2020

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