A yearlong pilot project using new technology designed to cut nitrous oxide emissions at the Torrance refinery is expected to win approval Friday from the governing board of the region’s air pollution watchdog.
The Technology Committee of the South Coast Air Quality Management District has recommended the board approve the proposal when it meets at 9 a.m. Friday in Diamond Bar.
The costs of the $960,00 project will be shared equally between the district, PBF Energy, owner of the Torrance refinery, and Seattle-based ClearSign Combustion Corp., creator of the emission-reducing technology.
The company plans to retrofit a refinery boiler with a “high-temperature porus ceramic tile matrix” called a Duplex burner capable of cutting nitrous oxide emissions.
Nitrous oxides are a major component of smog and the AQMD has made reducing the polluting gases a major goal.
“Previous studies of the Duplex technology installed on a small refinery heater demonstrated NOx emissions between 2.5 parts per million and 4.5 ppm,” reads the AQMD staff report in part. “For the proposed project, the goal will be to achieve and validate 3 ppm NOx emissions.”
By comparison, in general, large boilers similar to the one to be retrofitted with the Duplex low nitrous oxide combustion technology are required to meet a 5 ppm NOx limit, said Sam Atwood, AQMD spokesman.
In addition, toxic chemicals like ammonia are often used to reduce NOx emissions, which can pose safety and other problems. The Duplex technology, however, does not require the use of such substances.
The Torrance refinery will become the sixth outfitted with the company’s technology, according to its website. ClearSign officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
AQMD officials hope the new technology will become an additional tool to help reduce air pollution in the region.
“The SCAQMD region has the need to achieve significant NOx reductions in order to meet the national ambient air quality standards for ozone,” the staff report noted. “It is also equally important to assess new technologies to prevent or mitigate any negative impact on air quality and public health.”
Refinery air emissions have received increased attention locally since a February 2015 explosion at the plant revealed serious safety, environmental and health issues that have caught the attention of regulatory agencies and residents.
Excessive flaring that spews pollutants into the air have become a far more common occurrence at the refinery since PBF acquired it from ExxonMobil.
On Monday, for instance, a valve failure caused yet another unplanned flaring event that lasted for about 90 minutes.
Both the state and AQMD have issued new regulations this year intended to reduce pollution-causing emissions.
In July, for example, the AQMD adopted stricter rules governing flaring.
On Oct. 1, the California Department of Industrial Relations will adopt new regulations intended to strengthen workplace and environmental safety at oil refineries.
“These new regulations increase overall preparedness, provide greater accountability and implement a nation-leading approach to public safety and emergency prevention at refineries,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.