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Importance of total sulfur analysis

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Sulfur (S) is one of the most abundant elements on the planet, occurring in myriad forms and compounds in fossil fuels such as coal. While essential for a wide range of chemical applications, sulfur is also the underlying element of the hazardous greenhouse gas sulfur dioxide (SO2).

Total sulfur analysis is necessary for quality assurance and control of feedstocks, crudes, and processed fossil fuels prior to combustion to ensure that sulfur concentration is within acceptable limits. Numerous international standards have been established to limit sulfur emissions from industrial processes and in the transit sector. Gas chromatography equipped for total sulfur analysis is subsequently a vital tool in ensuring compliance with all the appropriate regulatory standards.

This concerted effort to implement total sulfur analysis in-line with changing global emission standards has proven instrumental in the increasing demand for, and utilization of, clean fuels. It is indicative of a similar trend that impacted nitric oxide (NOx) emission standards from the 1970s into the 2000s, reducing acceptable nitric oxide emissions in the world’s largest automotive markets to below 0.5 grams per kilometer (g/km). Most developed countries worldwide have now established stricter limits on diesel fuel sulfur content, with Canada leading the charge of ultra-low-sulfur diesel. Under Sulphur in Diesel Fuel Regulations (SOR/2002-254), the maximum limit of sulfur concentration for products important or domestically produced is set at just 15 parts per million (ppm)[1].

In this article, ABB explores the importance of total sulfur analysis in more detail, with a focus on the rising demand for clean fuels according to global emission standards.
Flare - emissions monitoring

Total sulfur analysis to combat emissions

Estimates suggest that >99% of the pollutant sulfur dioxide present in the earth’s atmosphere comes from human industrial activity. When coal and petroleum-based fuels are combusted in the presence of air, any sulfur content is released and oxidized. This gaseous oxide is then exhausted through chimney stacks into the atmosphere, where further reactions can result in the formation of sulphuric acid, which contaminates the environment as acid rain. The health effects of acid rain are not immediately felt by humans, but the impact on wildlife and fauna is severe.

Humans generally feel the effects of sulfur dioxide most keenly due to vehicle pollution. Cars generate ground-level sulfur dioxide which can build-up in urban areas, posing a significant risk to human cardiological and respiratory health.

The maritime sector is also one of the largest contributors to sulfur dioxide emissions that directly affect human health. According to the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), if ships continue burning bunker fuels within the currently accepted sulfur concentration limit, the emissions could contribute to more than 570,000 premature deaths worldwide between 2020-2025[2]. You can learn more about the importance of total sulfur analysis in the marine sector in our previous post: Reducing marine emissions with continuous gas analyzers.

Performing total sulfur analysis with ABB

ABB can assist in the performance of total sulfur analysis to ensure regulatory compliance for a range of systems, from natural gas to diesel fuels. Our PGC5007B total sulfur analyzer is built in accordance with ASTM method D7041-04 for the determination of total sulfur in various fuel types using on-line gas chromatography (GC). This system extracts a fixed volume of sample material from the process stream and injects it into a furnace, where the sample is oxidized before being passed through a GC column. Compounds elute from the column at different times depending on their physicochemical properties and affinity with the packing media, enabling the quantification of total sulfur at trace levels.

The PGC5007B is the only compliance solution available on the market for measuring sulfur concentration in diesel across extremely low ranges of approximately 0—15 parts per million (ppm). This is essential for quality control and assurance of fossil fuels in a changing regulatory landscape, from industrial processing to commercial vehicle fuels.

If you would like to learn more about performing total sulfur analysis, please do not hesitate to contact us using the local contact form below.



[1] https://www3.epa.gov/ttnchie1/conference/ei18/session2/panel_walsh_pres.pdf

[2] http://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Sulphur-2020.aspx

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