Air Pollution Control for Coal-Fired Power Plants

Published - Mar 2009| Analyst - Charles Forman| Code - EGY030B
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Report Highlights

  • The U.S. market for air pollution control technologies for coalfired power plants was worth $2.5 billion in 2008. This is expected to increase to $2.7 billion in 2013, for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.5%.
  • Scrubbers and FGD technologies generated $1.3 billion in 2008. This segment should increase slightly by the end of 2013, for a CAGR of 1.5%.
  • Nitrogen oxide control technologies were worth $925.0 million in 2008. This should increase at a CAGR of 1.5% to reach $997.0 million in 2013.



This is an update by a different author, a Ph.D. chemical engineer, of a BCC Research report published in June 2002 with most data and other information from 2001 or earlier. In the several years that have elapsed since then, much has happened in the coal-fired power plant industry and its attempts to control air pollution from such plants. In addition, much else has happened and continues to happen in the overall U.S. and global economic, energy, and pollution control situations. Many different and interlaced factors, not only technological and economic, but also increasingly political, are affecting and often driving the discussions of present and future policies and plans.

There are two different pertinent economic and technical areas, which with the countries of the world (and the entire global economy) are currently struggling with and seeking solutions. These are energy supplies and the environmental consequences of exploiting those supplies.

Energy can be supplied from a number of different sources. Today, most of the world’s energy is derived from so-called “fossil fuels,” the products of millennia of decay of animal and vegetable matter. The three primary fossil fuels are crude oil, natural gas, and coal, and all three have been exploited vigorously. 

  • Crude oil has several advantages in that it is liquid (usually) and is rather easily and economically transported around the globe and across land and sea. Crude oil is refined using known technologies to produce a number of different products, ranging from light gases to liquid fuels to heavy oils and asphalts. It is in high demand for its ease of use, number of applications, and unless there is some global political or economic upset, relatively low price. In 2008, the price of crude oil more than doubled in less than a year for no known physical or supply reasons except that developing countries, especially China and India, are using and seeking far greater quantities of oil than in the past. However, no sooner had crude oil prices peaked at close to $150/bbl than the price bubble burst and prices dropped to the current (early 2009) levels around $40/bbl. 
  • Natural gas has one principal advantage: it is the cleanest burning of the fossil fuels. Its demand has increased as tougher environmental controls of power plants have moved many utilities and other power producers to either switch to natural gas or build new power plants that burn it. However, natural gas has one big disadvantage compared with crude oil; that is, it is gaseous. In addition, a unit of energy (such as a BTU or a joule) of a gas takes up much more space than a liquid. Transporting natural gas over large distances requires a much greater investment than that to transport an energy-equivalent quantity of crude oil. There are solutions, such as liquefying the gas with cold, pressure, or both for smaller-volume transport, and building power and other gas-using plants near gas fields. However, a lot of current natural gas is considered “stranded” in remote places like Siberia, and a lot of it is flared into the atmosphere.  
  • Coal, the third fossil fuel, is important principally to date as a fuel for the generation of electric power. Being solid, it is not easily adapted for use as a transportation fuel unless it is chemically converted to a combustible gas or liquid; more later on so-called coal-to-liquid (CTL) technologies. Thus, coal is used today in the United States primarily for electrical power generation, and coal-fired power generation is the subject of this study and report.

Global energy supplies, until very recently, were exploited and used around the world with little concern about the future. Most usage has been in developed nations, and most conspicuously in the United States, which has about 5% of the global population but uses up to 35% of global energy supply. The world’s energy supplies are used in a number of different application areas, such as transportation, power generation, heating, etc. study goals and objectives (Continued)

The environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels were essentially ignored for many years from the start of the Industrial Revolution. Stories of the “dark satanic mills” of the British industrial midlands of the 19th century abound in literature. As the world’s population grew and demand for power and industrial goods grew, the effects of all this fossil fuel burning became more apparent from increased smog, respiratory problems, dying trees, acid rain, and other effects. It also caused increasingly political and economic considerations for governments, industry, and the public. These consequences show up in different ways, some obvious such as visible tailpipe and smokestack emissions, others less visible in the form of unseen toxic and other environmentally unfriendly gases and both liquid and solid wastes.

Now the problem of global warming is taking center stage, adding more urgency to the quest for new and/or better solutions to pollution from fossil fuel burning. One aspect of this overall global problem, that of control of air pollution from coal-fired power plants, is the focus and subject of this report.

For decades, the U.S. has relied on coal-fired electric-generating plants as the foundation of its central power system. Indeed, today more than half the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from burning coal. Coal is a very complex material. As we discuss later, fossil fuels vary depending on their geographical origin. Thus, there are different types of coal, crude oil, and natural gas, varying in chemical composition. “Coal” is a generic term for a great number of mixtures of often large and complex organic compounds, usually also containing metals and other contaminants. Burning coal generates many other emissions besides carbon dioxide (CO2) and water, the normal products of organic oxidation.

Because of these emissions, coal has received a lot of criticism as a power-generation fuel source because of its contribution to air pollution. Air emissions standards, constantly under study and discussion in universities, utilities, and government, have resulted in a re-evaluation of coal as a fuel source and the development of new technologies for reducing plant emissions. With deregulation of the utility market and the continual increase in the nation’s energy requirements, the need for cost-effective and environmentally compliant technologies also increases.

This BCC Research report analyzes the trends and developments of the rapidly changing U.S. market for air pollution control technologies for coal-fired power plants. The report provides an overview of the coal-based power industry, including history, key regulations, types and characteristics of plant emissions, types of emission-control technologies, industry structure, and future trends. Market forecasts are included for equipment to control the current major air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

This study focuses primarily in the United States but also includes some international observations, given the global nature of business and technology these days when no nation or region can operate without consideration of the rest of the world. However, our focus is on the United States.


During recent years, much emphasis has been placed on the development of air pollution control technologies that will allow the continued use of coal as an energy source while meeting the stringent requirements of the Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) of 1990 and subsequent legislation and regulations. The report is designed to provide information of a professional nature, and the technical data are dependent on the accuracy of data provided by manufacturers, researchers, and government sources that we covered in our research. We have sorted through, organized, and condensed information from a large amount of literature and other reference materials to compile this report. The report is not intended to be an endorsement of any energy source, company, or technology.


The report should be valuable and essential for vendors, research and development organizations, investors, and engineering and construction firms faced with complex business decisions involving the future directions of energy development. It will also prove to be valuable to government agencies, legislators, policymakers, and other stakeholders.


The report provides an analysis of the market for air pollution control technologies for both utility and non-utility coal-fired power plants. It includes technologies designed for retrofitting existing plants to meet new standards, as well as technologies for repowering existing facilities and for new plant construction. The report characterizes the types of air emissions associated with coal-based power systems and the key regulations that drive technology requirements. It evaluates the current R&D status and effectiveness of control technologies for sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), and so-called hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), or “air toxics,” with a primary emphasis at this time on mercury.

Since CO2 is not a toxic substance in the chemical and environmental control sense, it is not in the scope of this study even though there are current measures being taken to call it a pollutant for its greenhouse gas properties. We do discuss some of the current discussions regarding CO2 sequestration, but do not attempt to forecast such markets since they do not yet exist at this time.

The market analysis section in this report provides a detailed analysis and estimates of the markets in base year 2008 and 5-year market forecasts for 2013 for each major technology. Because of the extreme uncertainties in these times, both economic and political, we use a simple scenario analysis to estimate and forecast these markets. Any market estimates these days are speculative, and ours are no exception.

This report consists of eight narrative sections, of which this is the first, plus an appendix with a glossary of important terms. The narrative and market analysis sections that follow are:

  • The Summary is next and encapsulates our findings and conclusions, including a summary market table. It is the place where busy executives can find the major findings of the study in summary format.
  • Next is an Overview to the coal-based power industry. We start with an overview to coal, electricity generation, and industrial processes used in the industry. We then discuss the primary air pollutants from coal-based power generation.
  • The section that follows is devoted to air pollution control technologies for coal-fired power plants. We describe and discuss the major pollutants and the means for their control, ending with a review of recent patent activity. 
  • Our market analysis section follows, with estimates and forecasts for methods to control the four primary types of air pollution from coal-based power plants: SO2, NOx, PM, and hazardous air toxics (for this, the focus today is on mercury control). Our base estimate year is 2008, and we forecast to 2013. As noted, our market analyses and forecasts are in the form of a simple scenario analysis.  
  • The next section is devoted to industry structures and competitive analysis, with a focus on the electric power generation and air pollution control industries. 
  • We follow with a section devoted to government, regulatory, and public issues. The environment is a very politically sensitive issue, and governments, ranging from the federal congress and agencies down to local pollution control districts are all working on this issue. We review current and pending legislation, the status of deregulation, note some current regulatory issues, and end with some current public perceptions and issues.  
  • Our final narrative section is devoted to company profiles of several of the most significant companies in the air pollution control industry. 
  • We end with an appendix, a glossary of important terms and acronyms that are important to this industry. 


Both primary and secondary research methods were used in preparing this market research report. Extensive searches were made of the literature and the Internet, including many of the leading trade publications, and well as technical compendia, government publications, and information from trade and other associations. Much product and market information was obtained from the principals involved in the industry. The information for our company profiles was obtained primarily from the companies themselves, especially the larger publicly owned firms. Other sources included directories, articles, and Internet sites.


Dr. Charles Forman has over 50 years of chemical engineering and business experience in private business, the healthcare industry, and at a major not-for-profit educational association. He is an expert on the worldwide chemical process industries, with specialization in healthcare, petroleum and petrochemicals, specialty and agrichemicals, plastics, and packaging. He has written many market research reports for BCC Research on subjects including polymers and plastic packaging, petroleum processing, healthcare policy and products, food and feed additives, chemicals/petrochemicals/specialty chemicals, pesticides, and biotechnology.


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Neither the author nor BCC Research assumes any responsibility for the information in this report or for its use. All material in the report is intended to be as reliable as possible, and was gathered, analyzed, and written in a professional manner. The author assumes no liability for any loss or damage that may result from any reliance on any materials or information developed and presented in the report. This report is not a legal or accounting document, nor is it an endorsement of any material, product, or process. Much of the information developed and presented is of a speculative nature, and must be treated as such; this last statement is especially true for a politically and economically sensitive subject such as this one in a very uncertain political and economic climate.

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Published - Jun-2002| Analyst - Carolyn Bailey| Code - EGY030A

Report Highlights

  • Under current regulations, the market for air pollution control technologies for coal-fired power plants is expected to decline to $1.76 billion at an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 1.7% after the peaking of the NOx controls market around 2003 and 2004.
  • However, market projections through 2006 analyze new equipment installations for five different regulatory scenarios with 2007-2008 compliance targets.
  • Under the other scenarios, average annual growth ranging from 3.2% is expected, primarily as a result of mercury controls that will impact the market starting in 2005.
  • The greatest potential lies in a three-pollutant scenario, that includes a MACT regulation for mercury, where the market could experience an AAGR of 16.8%, reaching $4.2 billion in 2006.
  • The scenario involving control of four pollutants is not considered a likely regulatory scenario because it would be cost-prohibitive, resulting in no new coalfired capacity in the future, and low growth.


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