Before the public became aware of climate change, there was the environmental challenge posed by acid rain. Beginning in the late 1970s and ’80s, governments worldwide made concerted efforts to reduce the amount of sulphur released into the atmosphere, eventually eliminating the immediate crisis.
In that setting, Elmira’s Sulco Chemicals Ltd., a manufacturer of sulphur-based products, has been looking to do its part, year over year. For 2009, the company dropped its sulphur dioxide (SO2) output by 81 per cent versus the previous year.
For the producer of sulphuric acid, oleum and sodium bisulphite, this represents an overall reduction of 94 per cent since the 1990 base reporting year.
In 2008, Sulco emitted approximately 282 metric tons of SO2. In 2009, only 52 tonnes were emitted, or six per cent of the amount allowed by this type of company under provincial standards. By the end of 2010, general manager Ron Koniuch predicts that number will be closer to 36 tonnes.
Aside from the acid rain issue, the reduction in SO2 emissions also has health benefits, as exposure can lead to respiratory problems, according to the Ministry of the Environment measure of air quality.
For those of us who don’t remember much from our chemistry classes in high school, the words sulphuric acid, oleum and sodium bisulphate many not ring any bells, but most of us do use them on a regular basis. Sulfuric acid is a major component of the ethanol found in gasoline; it’s used to prepare steel for industrial use, and in the treatment of water. The lion’s share is used for fertilizer production. Sodium bisulphate is used for bleaching paper and the dechlorination of water.
Sulphur dioxide is a byproduct of the three chemicals produced at Sulco.
Interestingly, the reduction at Sulco was reached through a 20-per-cent increase in plant production.
The 2009 emission reduction was related to the February 2009 installation of a sulphur dioxide ‘tailgas scrubber unit’ which produces sodium bisulphite (SBS). Sodium bisulphite is a chemical used to take the chlorine out of drinking water in municipal water plants and as a low toxicity bleaching agent in pulp and paper production.
“This material is a lot easier for our customers to handle,” Konuich explained. “That is why the market is growing for this environmentally-preferred chemical.”
The new scrubbing unit has turned what would otherwise be a waste emission gas into a marketable product.
In comparison to other nations involved in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada ranks 27th of 28 countries, in both per capita sulphur dioxide emissions and total sulphur dioxide emissions. Canada produces 88.9 kg of sulphur dioxide per capita, more than two times the OECD average of 39.2 kg. Only Australians produce more per capita emissions than Canada, while only the United States produces a higher total amount of emissions.
Since 1985, Canada’s emissions of sulphur dioxide have decreased by 15.3 per cent. However, 16 of the 20 other OECD nations for whom trend data are available achieved larger reductions in sulphur dioxide emissions during this period than Canada. Provincially, maximum emissions allowances are set, but organizations such as the Canadian Chemical Producers and, more locally, Sustainable Waterloo are helping companies set even more proactive targets for themselves.
Koniuch credits the Canadian Chemical Producers’ Responsible Care Program for stimulating these developments within his company.
“With Responsible Care, we submit ourselves for verification every three years, and the verifiers – that include representatives with industrial experience and expertise as well as members of the public – expect to see progress on our environmental goals.”
As a result of the industry program, Sulco initiated a community advisory panel (CAP) several years ago. The CAP is comprised of members of the Elmira community and is designed to offer direction and feedback to Sulco about community concerns.
“There are certain regulations set by the province, but what Sulco is doing is going above and beyond that,” explained Chemtura Public Advisory Committee chairperson Pat McLean. “Their actions are very proactive when it comes to environmental protection.”