EU to cap SO2 and NOx emissions from medium-sized combustion plants

Industrieemissionen (Foto: Kroll /

Brussels — Proposed EU sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emission limits for medium-sized combustion plants, such as electricity generators or heating systems for domestic, residential or industrial use, were backed by MEPs yesterday. They had already been informally agreed with EU ministers. In areas where these emissions breach EU air quality standards, EU countries would be required to assess whether to introduce stricter limits.

There are approximately 143,000 “medium” combustion plants in the EU, i.e. those with a thermal input rated between 1 and 50 MW. They are used for a wide variety of applications, such as electricity generation, domestic or residential heating and cooling and providing heat or vapour for industrial processes. These plants are an important source of SO2, NOx and dust emissions. While small combustion plants can be covered by EU ecodesign legislation, and large ones by the industrial emissions directive, emissions of air pollutants from medium combustion plants are generally not regulated at EU level.

„This legislation fills a legislative gap, a loophole that we have between the ecodesign directive, which sets out standards for combustion plants of less than 1 MW and the industrial emissions directive, for those over 50 MW. The emission limits were set at an ambitious level, in order gradually to improve air quality, with proper safeguards for the operation of existing plants, in particular small plants, of less than 5 MW, operated mostly by SMEs or utility companies, which are important for heating schools, hospitals or universities“, said Andrzej Grzyb, who is steering the legislation through Parliament. Parliament endorsed the agreement negotiated with the Council by 623 votes to 70, with 12 abstentions.

For new plants, the limits would take effect within three years. For existing ones, with a thermal output above 5 MW, the maximum emission values for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and dust, as proposed by the European Commission, would come into force from 2025. The smallest plants, with a thermal input from 1 to 5 MW, most of which are operated by small or medium-sized enterprises, would have to comply with emission limit values from 2030.

The legislation does not prevent member states from enforcing tougher standards than are required by the directive. In negotiations, MEPs ensured that in areas in breach of EU air quality standards, national authorities would be required to assess whether to introduce stricter limits. The new limits still need to be formally approved by the EU Council of Ministers before they can take effect.

Source: EU Commission