The fate and behavior of mercury in coal-fired power plants

J Air Waste Manag Assoc. 2002 Aug;52(8):912-7. doi: 10.1080/10473289.2002.10470833.


For the past 22 years in the Netherlands, the behavior of Hg in coal-fired power plants has been studied extensively. Coal from all over the world is fired in Dutch power stations. First, the Hg concentrations in these coals were measured. Second, the fate of the Hg during combustion was established by performing mass balance studies. On average, 43 +/- 30% of the Hg was present in the flue gases downstream of the electrostatic precipitator (ESP; dust collector). In individual cases, this figure can vary between 1 and 100%. Important parameters are the Cl content of the fuel and the flue gas temperature in the ESP. On average, 54 +/- 24% of the gaseous Hg was removed in the wet flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) systems, which are present at all Dutch coal-power stations. In individual cases, this removal can vary between 8% (outlier) and 72%. On average, the fate of Hg entering the power station in the coal was as follows: <1% in the bottom ash, 49% in the pulverized fuel ash (ash collected in the ESP), 16.6% in the FGD gypsum, 9% in the sludge of the wastewater treatment plant, 0.04% in the effluent of the wastewater treatment plant, 0.07% in fly dust (leaving the stack), and 25% as gaseous Hg in the flue gases and emitted into the air. The distribution of Hg over the streams leaving the FGD depends strongly on the installation. On average, 75% of the Hg was removed, and the final concentration of Hg in the emitted flue gases of the Dutch power stations was only -3 microg/m3(STP) at 6% O2. During co-combustion with biomass, the removal of Hg was similar to that during 100% coal firing. Speciation of Hg is a very important factor. An oxidized form (HgCl2) favors a high degree of removal. The conversion from Hg0 to HgCl2 is positively correlated with the Cl content of the fuel. A catalytic DENOX (SCR) favors the formation of oxidized Hg, and, in combination with a wet FGD, the total removal can be as high as 90%.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Coal*
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Incineration
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Mercury / chemistry
  • Netherlands
  • Power Plants*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Coal
  • Mercury