What does the new IED mean for air emissions from large industrial operations?

The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) is the main EU legislation to control industrial emissions in the EU. Adopted originally in 2010, the IED was due for an update to support the objectives of the European Green Deal, aiming to fortify EU measures against pollution arising from large industrial operations.

After intense negotiations, the provisional agreement on the IED 2.0 content was reached in November 2023. The agreement was formally adopted by the parliament on March 2024 and by the council on April 2024. The final official part is the pending publication in the official EU journal as expected in the summer 2024. As a directive, the member states need to adopt its contents to national legislation within 22 months from the publication.

What is the IED?

Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and the Council on industrial emissions (the Industrial Emissions Directive or IED) is the main EU instrument for regulating pollutant emissions from industrial installations.

There are around 50000 installations taking part in industrial activities that must be operated in accordance with a permit (granted by the authorities in the Member States). This permit should contain conditions set in accordance with the principles and provisions of the IED.

The measured components depend on various factors, such as the industry, the burned fuel, and the size of the plant. The environmental permit of a plant defines which gases and components must be monitored and what their set limits are. For example, both small and large coal-fired power plants have their own, separate limits.

The IED was adopted in November 2010 and came into force January 2011. It replaced seven previously existing directives with the aim of a higher level of protection of human health and the environment as a whole.

In short, the IED

  • Covers the whole environmental performance of installations, covering air and water emissions, alongside energy efficiency.
  • Defines emission limit values (ELVs) and monitoring requirements across various industries / processes.
  • Commits to undertaking continuous research to identify Best Available Techniques (BAT) and set evolving benchmarks for permit conditions, ensuring ongoing improvement.

IED is largely implemented through BREFs

IED relies heavily on the process of establishing the BATs for each industry. IED-regulated industries are inherently different, making it impossible to establish one set of detailed emission limits, abatement techniques, and other similar guidance to cover them all. However, the aim is the same – to reach the best possible performance, taking into account the specific conditions of each industry. This aim is reached through the BAT documents where these conditions are considered.

BREFs impose, for example, what kind of emission limits each industry must have and how they need to be measured, either continuously or periodically.

In June 2024, there are 34 BAT reference documents published. For gas emissions control from large industrial sites, the most substantial ones include WI BREF for waste incineration and LCP BREF for large combustion plants.

What are the key changes in the updated IED?

On April 2022, the European Commission (EC) released a proposal to revise the IED. After comprehensive discussions in the parliament and council, the parliament formally adopted the revision on the 12th of March, 2024. Some of the key changes in the approved text include:

  • National authorities should, by default, assign the lowest possible emission limit values (ELVs) that the facility can reasonably achieve. Currently, 80% of installations have the ELVs set according to the highest possible emission limit enabled in the BAT document (BAT-AEL):
    “In order for the emissions to be decreased, the competent authority should set emission limit values at the strictest achievable level for the specific installation, taking into account the entire range of the BAT AELs as well as cross-media effects. The emission limit values should be based on an assessment by the operator analysing the feasibility of meeting the strictest end of the BAT AEL range and aiming at the best environmental performance possible for the specific installations; unless the operator demonstrates that applying best available techniques as described in the BAT conclusions only allows the installation concerned to meet less strict emission limit values.“
  • The scope of IED is expanded to include large battery manufacturing installations with a capacity over 15000 t/a, excluding battery assembly:
    “The inclusion of large installations manufacturing batteries, as opposed to installations that only assemble batteries, in the scope of Directive 2010/75/EU will improve in a holistic way the sustainability of batteries and minimise their impact on the environment throughout their life cycle. This will contribute to growth in batteries manufacturing which is more sustainable.”

    In addition, the inclusion of minerals industry and cattle farming will be decided later during the implementation period in 2 years. On the other hand, hydrogen electrolysis with a capacity less than 50 t/day is excluded from the scope.
  • Information sharing to public about ELVs and actual emissions is facilitated:
    “With a view to further strengthening public access to environmental information, it is necessary to clarify that permits for installations granted pursuant to Directive 2010/75/EU are to be made available to the public on the internet, free of charge and without restricting access to registered users”

    A European Industrial Emissions Portal E-PRTR is already available with limited open data on pollutant releases. The portal will be replaced with a more comprehensive IEPR portal.

What is the effect to practical ELVs?

The most major change is the policy to set ELVs as low as possible. This could be a major factor, requiring both increasingly effective abatement systems as well as new and more accurate monitoring technologies. In essence, this continues the long-term trend of continuous decrease of industrial emissions using improving technologies.

In practice, the changes will only affect when the environmental permit is updated. Many operators may be hesitant to open up their permit voluntarily due to the likely need of further investments on abatement and monitoring. Therefore it may take up to 5-10 years before substantial major effects can be seen.

On the other hand, BAT-deviations will be possible only as temporary means, to be reassessed every 4 years. This combined with strengthened enforcement empowering the member states to impose effective penalties for non-compliance tightens the environmental control in long-term as intended by the EU.


Dioxins and furans with an increased focus

In waste-to-energy, dioxins and furans (PCDD/F) need to be measured every 3 years also during start-up and shut-down periods. In these periods, the process is in other than normal operation condition (OTNOC) which increases the risk for higher emissions. Since arranging periodic sampling at the exactly correct OTNOC moment may prove to be difficult, the change drives further the tendency in WtE to use a long-term PCDD/F sampler instead to avoid the issue. These long-term samplers should be checked with comparison measurements annually.

Measurement uncertainty remains a question mark

Finally, a topic of interest in IED preparation has been how to handle pollutant measurement uncertainty. Currently, this is done differently in different member states. While in other states it is permitted to subtract the measurement uncertainty from the measured value before reporting it, in other states this cannot be done. It is also unclear which measurement uncertainty should be deducted as different uncertainties can be calculated for example based on QAL1 type approval testing or based on QAL2 calibration. This can even lead to adverse situations where a higher measurement uncertainty could be preferred to be able to deduct a higher amount from the measured value.

Article 15a in the new IED comments on the topic by stating that the corrections made to the measured results cannot exceed the measurement uncertainty. However, the details on which deductions are permitted are not given. Instead, it is stated that the European Commission will provide a method for assessing the compliance to the ELVs within 24 months of the release of the new IED. Until the further guidance, the situation remains unclear.

Another major step towards EU environment and climate goals

All in all, the new IED is a another major step towards reaching EU environment and climate goals. Extended scope, lower emission limit values, increased enforcement and enhanced public access to emissions data continue the long-term trend of limiting the environmental effect of industrial activities.

With more stringent requirements comes also the need to monitor more pollutant parameters continuously. After all, what is not measured, cannot be properly controlled.


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