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Everything to know about Black Carbon (BC)

Black carbon (BC), also known as soot, is a component of particulate matter (PM2.5) that affects human health and contributes to climate change. While we at Breeze Technologies don’t measure for black carbon specifically, PM2.5 is one of the pollutants we consider vital for monitoring. Read on to find out more about this specific fine particulate air pollution.

What is black carbon?

Black carbon is formed through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, wood, and other fuels. Complete combustion turns all the carbon in fuel into carbon dioxide, but combustion is never complete. Hence, carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), organic carbon, black carbon particles, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are all formed in the process. In 2015, BC emissions totalled around 6.6 million tonnes. 

What are sources of black carbon?

In 2015, the breakdown of black carbon sources were as follows:

  • 58% from households (biomass cookstoves, biomass cooking stoves, coal stoves, kerosene lamps, etc.)
  • 24% from transport
  • 6% from industrial production (brick and coke production)
  • 5% from agriculture (open burning)
  • 3% from fossil fuels (long-distance gas transmission, oil and gas production)
  • 2% from large scale combustion (boilers and furnaces in power plants and industry)
  • 1% from waste (open burning)

Over the years, BC emissions have decreased in developed countries due to stricter air quality regulations. Asia, Africa, and Latin America are responsible for approximately 88% of global black carbon production due to open biomass burning and residential solid fuel combustion.

What is the health impact of black carbon?

Particulate matter has been linked to

  • Reduced lung function, pneumonia, and respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer
  • Irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, and cardiovascular diseases
  • Strokes

PM2.5, which are fine particles, present a higher health risk due to their small size. This allows them to penetrate deep into the respiratory and circulatory systems, causing damage to the lungs, heart, and brain.

What is the environmental impact of black carbon?

While black carbon is short-lived with a lifetime of 4-12 days, it has a warming impact that is 460-1,500 times higher than carbon dioxide on the climate. This is due to its ability to absorb incoming solar radiation and convert it into heat, thus effectively warming its surroundings. BC also reduces the surface albedos of snow and ice crystals and heats them, thus making them susceptible to melting. When embedded in clouds, soot dims the sunlight that reaches earth by absorbing it, causing changes in cloud and rainfall patterns which affect both ecosystems and human livelihoods.  

How can black carbon emissions be lessened?

Black carbon’s short atmospheric lifetime and strong warning potential means that targeted actions can create climate, health, and environmental benefits within a short period of time. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition has proposed a set of control measures that, if globally implemented by 2030, could reduce black carbon emissions by as much as 80%

For household energy:

  • Replace traditional cooking and heating to clean-burning modern stoves
  • Eliminate kerosene lamps
  • Replace lump coal with coal briquettes
  • Replace wood stoves and burners with pellet stoves and boilers

For industrial production:

  • Modernize brick kilns to vertical shaft brick kilns
  • Modernize coke ovens to recovery ovens

For transport:

  • Use diesel particulate filters for vehicles
  • Eliminate high-emitting diesel vehicles
  • Transition to electric vehicles

For fossil fuels: 

  • Capture and improve oil flaring and gas production

For agriculture and waste management:

  • Ban open burning of agricultural and municipal waste

Tracking the changes in PM2.5 levels will help gauge the success of these actions. And at Breeze Technologies, we have the perfect solution. Our compact, lower-cost sensors are easy to deploy on urban, industrial, and rural infrastructure, with the data gathered in real-time to form an effective air quality network run on our Breeze Environmental Cloud. Contact us today to make clean air a reality for all!