Monitoring Air Quality Impacts from Coal Power Plants in Virginia

Map of Virginia showin impacts from coal burning plants. Image Credit: DEVELOP

Image Credit: DEVELOP

Authors: Kajli Agrawal, Brie-Anna Walker, Idalina Walker, Zach Tate

Mentors/Advisers (affiliation): Dr. Richard Ferrare (NASA Langley Research Center), Dr. Ana Prados (Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, University of Maryland Baltimore County), Dr. Kenton Ross (NASA Langley Research Center), Giovanni Colberg (Mentor), Yanina Colberg (Mentor), Honorable J. Jack Kennedy Jr. (Mentor)

Team Location: Wise County’s Clerk of Court’s Office, Wise, Virginia

Abstract: Coal-burning technology for power generation has been improving over the years towards more environmentally friendly methods. Virginia City, in Wise County, and Carbo, in Russell County, are both home to coal-burning power plants. The power plant in Russell County began generating power in 1957; the plant in Wise County went online in July 2012. Among the many differences, the main distinction between these two plants is the type of technology used by the facilities. The new power plant in Wise County uses an innovative “clean coal”-burning technology, while the Russell County power plant uses traditional coal-burning technology. The Wise County plant also uses a variety of fuel for the power generation, which is different from Russell County plant. These two plants provide a good opportunity for monitoring and comparing air quality impacts within the region with the help of NASA’s Earth observations and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). By using a suite of NASA Earth observing satellites and sensors, the project continued to monitor emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and aerosols that are being released into the atmosphere from the result of burning coal and other fuels. Sensors such as the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI), the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR), the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) will be used to quantify the amounts of gases and particulate matter being released. It was a great challenge to use satellite emission data to detect any significant change, since the power plants are only 11 miles apart. This project focused on the use of in-situ data for analysis. In-situ emission and meteorological data were implemented in 3-D modeling, using the Hybrid Single Particle Langrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model. Overall, this project provided an improved understanding of the lessened impacts of “clean coal”-burning technology over traditional coal burning technology and how this technology has been enhanced since the 1950s. This project aimed to assist and introduce NASA’s Earth observations into future decision-making for energy generation, and help to improve and lessen the impacts on the environment from coal-burning power plants.