Innovative Measurement Technologies: Power Plant Pollutant & Effluent Control MEGA Symposium Pap

Authors & Contributors: Anthony P. Schneider, Patrick M. Cook, Jonathan A. Cross, Andrew M. Mertz, Denis Motovilov, Alejandra Ng-Feng, Weston P. Moyer, Alexandra Sipershteyn, Erik M. Tobin, Joseph Siperstein.


Sorbent trap measurements were essential for coal-fired utilities leading up to and through the implementation of Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), and continue to be essential for a wide variety of applications. They are widely used through EPA M30B1 and PS12B2 methodologies for regulatory compliance as well as engineering studies with the goal of studying and reducing mercury emissions. More recently, innovative sorbent technology has opened the door to easy, high quality measurements at both stack and upstream sampling locations for a variety of analytes which include Hg, SO3/H2SO4, NH3, HCl/HBr, As, and Se. These analytes are of interest because they are or are expected to be regulated in various ways and can represent or otherwise impact control technology performance.

Sorbent trap measurements are advantageous because Sorbent Trap Sampling Systems (STSS) are lightweight, versatile, and easy to use. A configured STSS is capable of measuring any of these analytes at almost any sampling location. EPA reference methods have served as inspiration for the development of sampling and analytical methodologies. Proper temperature control and flow rate are vital for successful measurements. Isokinetic sampling may be required for certain analytes/sampling locations and can be easily performed using nozzles designed for typical sorbent trap flow rates. Measurement quality is verified by EPA M30B/OTM-403 performance criteria which include Breakthrough (%BT), Pair Agreement (%RD), Spike Recovery (%R), and various sampling and analytical checks.

Since many experiments have been performed with these sorbent traps, two case studies are presented:

1. Measurement of Arsenic reduction by limestone addition for extended catalyst lifetime

2. Testing in-situ SO3 filtration techniques around the SCR

Experimental methods and results from these case studies will be presented and discussed.


Many of the EPA Emissions Test Methods, developed well before the turn of the century, were based on sample trains consisting of Greenburg-Smith impingers in series which contain solutions designed to absorb targeted pollutants out of the sample gas stream. Sampling impinger trains typically requires a team of technicians and significant mobilization time. Sampling locations are often difficult to access and unforgiving to the specialty glassware used in these manual methods. Impinger solutions may consist of hazardous materials which must be transferred and containerized on-site. Impinger train methods are prescribed, and if the procedures are not followed correctly, it is difficult to know that a deviation occurred without observation by a third party. The methods are cumbersome, but are well-tested and provide high quality results at stacks. Many of the method features such as filtration technique and temperature control were incorporated into the corresponding sorbent trap methods during their development.

Instrumental measurements in the form of both compliance CEMS and process monitors provide the advantage of instantaneous data which are useful for immediate detection of pollution control failures so that rapid corrections may be made. These data are valuable, but come with significant costs to cover installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting. Once installed, it is difficult to move the instrument to a different sampling location. Sorbent traps should not be used to replace instrumental monitors where necessary. Instrumentation installed in problematic sampling environments should be expected to require more maintenance and yield lower data availability. Some measurements require that the sample gas is extracted and transported through heated line to a distant instrument. These measurements are susceptible to scrubbing and loss of analyte during the delivery process, notably if the sample gas contains significant particulate and condensable particulate matter. Instrument performance should be verified by an appropriate technique which could include a gas-phase matrix spike, an accepted EPA reference method, or a sorbent trap method.

Innovative sorbent trap methods have been developed within the last few years with the primary objective of simplifying stack testing as well as engineering testing. Sorbent traps, tubes packed with sorbents for absorbing analytes of interest, are designed to be sampled in pairs in a probe that can be operated by a single technician. A lightweight sampling system is preferred so that it can easily be hauled to discrete locations and even moved between locations throughout the day which is especially useful for engineering tests with tight schedules. Sorbent traps are small, non-hazardous, disposable, and directly billable. All of the traps are designed for meeting the performance criteria set by EPA M30B, so that if a deviation from procedure occurs during either sampling or analysis, it may be easily detected by a QA/QC failure.

EPA has recently approved ALT-129 which allows using OTM-40 for quarterly compliance testing and RATA testing at sources without entrained water droplets under 40 CFR part 63 Subpart UUUUU. EPA’s publication of OTM-40 (based on EPA M30B) for HCl measurement using sorbent traps provided additional framework for ensuring measurement quality where Ion Chromatography (IC) is used for analysis. IC is used for HCl, HBr, SO3/H2SO4, and NH3 trap analysis. Hg sorbent traps are analyzed by Thermal Desorption Atomic Absorption Spectrometry (TD-AA).4 Arsenic and Selenium traps are digested and can be analyzed by any standard metals instrument including Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption Spectrometry (GF-AA), Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS), and Hydride Generation Atomic Fluorescence Spectrometry (HG-AF). HG-AF has been utilized most extensively thus far due to the low operating cost and minimal effect from matrix interferences.

Significant field testing has shown that sorbent traps are not only useful for various engineering studies, but also that they are likely to outperform other methods in terms of ease of use, data quality, and cost.

Table 1. Summarization of Sorbent Trap Method Characteristics

Sorbent Trap Method Characteristics

*Corresponds to the temperature below which an isokinetic sampling approach should be used, due to the expectation that the analyte will condense into an aerosol or other particulate form

**For each analyzed trap section


Sampling Location

Selection of appropriate sampling locations is critical to any experimental test design. It is well-known that stratification can affect measurements of various flue gas constituents, and this should be kept in mind when selecting ports for sorbent trap sampling (it is best to avoid ports at the far edges of ductwork, and ports that immediately follow a sharp turn in ductwork).

If some sort of mitigation injection (activated carbon, DSI, etc.) is being used at the test site, it is important to know how far upstream that injection is, and how it may affect measurements, whether those measurements be done via sorbent traps or some other sampling method. Our field technicians have observed on more than one occasion experimental tests where an injection lance was placed a few feet upstream of a test method. It was not surprising when all measurement methods (sorbent traps and otherwise) were inundated with the injected material and unable to measure the analyte of interest.

Tested Variables

Generally, experiments are designed to measure one or more flue gas constituents repeatedly, with each sample run occurring during some set of stable and unique sample conditions. These conditions are often changed between runs or between test days, in order to determine the effects these conditions have on the measured concentration of the analyte(s) of interest. The conditions that can be changed often include injection/addition rate of a material that is designed to adsorb, mitigate, or otherwise react with the flue gas constituent being measured. The experiment could also compare analyte concentrations at different unit loads, or different variants (manufacturers) of similar injection materials.

Sampling System

There are a variety of sorbent trap sampling systems (STSS) available on the market, but the model used for the experiments described in this paper is the OLM30B STSS (Figure 1). The sampling system consists of four primary components: sorbent trap probe, sample lines, desiccant canisters, and pump console. The probe (in its standard configuration) is six feet long, made of stainless steel, contains two sorbent trap liners designed for 10mm OD sorbent traps, houses a thermocouple for the measurement of stack gas temperature, is equipped with a 750W heater, and can be cooled via a cooling air inlet. Desiccant canisters contain calcium sulfate and sodium carbonate for the removal of water and acid gases, respectively. The pump console contains all electronics and power systems required to run the system, two mass flow controllers, and two pumps that can operate from 0-2 LPM. For many applications, an in-line thermocouple may be placed inside one of the trap liners to get an extremely accurate trap temperature measurement. Oxygen sensors are included in some OLM30B samplers for specific applications that require oxygen corrections.

Figure 1. OLM30B Sorbent Trap Sampling System

OLM30B Sorbent Trap Sampling System

Inspiration from EPA Methods

Each of the sorbent trap methodologies developed by the investigators has been inspired by the Method 30B sorbent trap design (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Standard Method 30B Sorbent Trap

Standard Method 30B Sorbent Trap

Method 30B includes a set of quality control criteria to validate measurements. These criteria include pass/fail thresholds on the calculated field spike recovery, pair agreement, and breakthrough for each run, in addition to a variety of other controls. In essence, the design of the method is such that when a measurement is obtained and all QC validations have passed, the user of the method can have great certainty that the measurement is accurate. This method design has been adapted to the variety of other sorbent trap methods that followed Method 30B, including HCl/HBr, SO3/H2SO4, NH3, As, and Se. Corresponding EPA methods for these analytes were used when considering sampling procedures including isokinetic sampling, filtration technique, filtration temperature, and more.

Managing Temperature

Controlling the temperature of a sorbent trap is of critical importance for all of the various sorbent trap methods, and the range of ideal sampling temperatures depends on the type of trap being sampled (refer to Table 1 in the introduction). In order to ensure accurate temperature measurement, we have designed an in-line thermocouple. This thermocouple sits directly behind one of the traps inside the trap liner, and is designed to not create any leaks in the sample train. Research has shown the standard trap temperature thermocouples built into most probes are unable to accurately measure true sorbent trap temperature when sampling extremely hot gas (>250°C) while simultaneously being exposed to cooling air. As all of our sorbent traps must be cooled in such environments, we found the only solution to be to expose a thermocouple directly to the sample gas immediately downstream of the sorbent trap. Sorbent traps often require a combination of heating (via probe heater) and cooling (via supplied air) in order to maintain a steady temperature. The supplied cooling air can come from a small electric pump for applications downstream of the air pre-heater or plant air for applications further upstream.

Isokinetic Sampling

Some sorbent trap measurements may require the user to account for aerosols and other particulate-form or particulate-phase analytes. Isokinetic sampling is required to collect an amount of aerosols or particulate matter that is representative of what’s actually passing through the sample environment. This may be performed by using the isokinetic sampling technique described by EPA M55. Isokinetic nozzles are commercially available for typical sorbent trap flow rates.


For several sorbent trap sampling applications, it is necessary to prevent particulate matter from entering the sorbent trap. Particulate matter can often contain an interferent for the analyte being measured and would therefore bias the measurement high if included in the analysis. There are several options for particulate filtration, including sintered titanium filter tips, quartz tissue, static pre-filters, and inertial separators. The selection of an appropriate filtration technique is based on both sampling location and type of sorbent trap being sampled. For example, it would be acceptable to attach titanium filter tips to NH3 sorbent traps being sampled at an SCR outlet, but one should not use those same filter tips to sample SO3/H2SO4 sorbent traps, which have been found to cause excessive scrubbing in high particulate environments.

Oxygen and Moisture Corrections

Generally speaking, it is critical that both oxygen and moisture concentrations be accounted for when reporting measurements. This is especially true when comparing measurements acquired from multiple locations simultaneously. Sorbent trap results are always reported on a dry basis, so if comparing to a wet instrument method, a moisture correction factor must be applied. An oxygen sensor may be included in the OLM30B STSS described above, which operates via fluorescence quenching. Sorbent trap measurements are generally corrected to a 3% oxygen basis if required by the application.


Case Study 1 – The Effects of Limestone Combustion on Arsenic

Arsenic concentration in flue gas plays a major role in determining the overall lifespan of a catalyst, as it is known to deactivate the catalyst by occupying active pore sites. More specifically, the As2O3 that is formed during the combustion of coal can react with oxygen on the vanadium compounds in the catalyst to form As2O5, which chemically bonds to the site.6

The addition of calcium to fuel (often via limestone feed) has been demonstrated to be an effective means of reducing the amount of As2O3 present in flue gas (via the formation of Ca3(AsO4)2), thereby slowing the rate of catalyst deactivation.7 This calcium-arsenic compound does not follow the same reaction pathway as As2O3 in the catalyst, but rather passes through the SC