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New EU environmental standards for the industrial production of large volume organic chemicals

LVOCs have a key role in the manufacturing process of many of our everyday products. LVOCs have a key role in the manufacturing process of many of our everyday products.
©AdobeStock_98868903, 2017
Dec 07 2017

New emissions and efficiency standards will help national authorities to lower the environmental impact of the 3,200 installations that produce Large Volume Organic Chemicals (LVOC) and represent 63% of the EU's entire chemical industry.

The new specifications stem from a JRC-led review of the Best Available Techniques Reference Document (BREF) for LVOC. The review's BAT conclusions were published today in the Official Journal of the EU.

Beyond their importance to the European chemical industry, LVOCs have a key role in the manufacturing process of many of our everyday products. LVOC installations convert refinery products and other raw materials into large-quantity chemical intermediates that are needed to produce:

  • Polymers like rubber, PVC and the world's most common plastic – polyethylene, which is found in food and drink packaging.
  • Organic fine chemicals like pesticides, pharmaceuticals and the organic dyes used in things like clothing, paints and printed materials.

Best available techniques

While the main aim of the LVOC BAT conclusions is to reduce emissions from chemical processes, other environmental issues - like energy efficiency, resource efficiency, wastes and residues - are also covered.

The document contains 90 individual BAT conclusions. Of these, 19 apply to the sector as a whole and 71 apply to the most common LVOC production processes, including lower olefins, aromatics, ethylbenzene, styrene, formaldehyde and others.

These BAT conclusions are designed to be read in conjunction with the BAT conclusions for Common Waste Water and Waste Gas Treatment/Management Systems in the Chemical Sector (CWW) which cover all chemical sectors and were published in 2016.

BAT-associated emission levels

The conclusions provide national authorities with the technical basis to set permit conditions for installations.

They include BAT-associated emission levels (BAT-AELs) which have the potential, through their translation into emission limits, to drive a sizeable reduction of emissions from the LVOC sector.

LVOC installations will have 4 years to comply with the new standards. Emission levels are set for the energy intensive 'cracking furnaces' that heat hydrocarbons to the level needed to produce LVOC, as well as for the production processes of specific chemicals.

Depending on the process, levels are set for the emission of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, TVOC (total volatile organic compounds), hydrogen chloride, chlorine, dioxins (PCDD/F) and some specific organic pollutants to air.

Limiting the environmental impact of waste water

The 2016-published CWW BAT conclusions already apply to the final treatment of waste waters associated with the production process.

The LVOC BAT conclusions therefore focus on techniques to prevent or pretreat these waste waters.

This includes techniques to maximise the recovery of products and raw materials from effluents, as well as reduce the concentration of contaminants in the effluent – like hydrolysis, adsorption and chemical oxidation.

The document also sets out BAT-AELs for copper, dioxin and ethylene dichloride (EDC) in the final effluent from the production of EDC.

While these 'emission levels' apply at the point where effluent leaves the installation, 'environmental performance levels' are also set, which are associated with the best available techniques inside the installations themselves.

These apply to the pretreatment of waste water from the production of specific chemicals: phenol, toluene diisocyanate (TDI)/methylenediphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and EDC/vinyl chloride (VCM).

Best available techniques – background information

BAT conclusions aim at achieving a high level of protection of the environment as a whole, taking into account the economic and technical viability.

They not only cover the emission levels and other environmental performance aspects of several (production) techniques, but also include standards for how the technology is used and the way in which the installation is designed, built, maintained, operated and decommissioned.

The Seville process defines the production and the adoption of the BAT Reference Document and its subsequent conclusions.

/jrc/en/file/173945Sevilla Process: scientific and technical basis for EU industrial emissions legislation

The drafting of the BAT conclusions has been led by the JRC through its European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau (EIPPCB) and drawn up with the involvement of experts from industry, EU public authorities, environmental NGOs and the European Commission.

The European Commission has adopted the revised BAT conclusions for large volume organic chemicals after the positive vote of the representatives of the EU Member States in the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) Article 75 Committee.

The Directive provides a framework for regulating about 50 000 industrial installations across the EU.

The BAT conclusions for the production of large volume organic chemicals constitute the 13th of a series of Commission Implementing Decisions adopted under the IED.

The EIPPCB is currently reviewing or drawing up BAT reference documents for the following sectors: waste treatment; food, drink and milk; waste incineration; surface treatment using organic solvents (including wood and wood-products preservation with chemicals); ferrous-metals processing; common waste gas treatment in the chemical sector and textiles.