The dark side of kerosene lamps: High black-carbon emissions

December 10, 2012

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The small kerosene lamps that light millions of homes in developing countries have a dark side: black carbon - fine particles of soot released into the atmosphere.

New measurements show that kerosene wick lamps release 20 times more black carbon than previously thought, say researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of California, Berkeley. The group published its findings in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Black carbon is a hazard for human health and the environment, affecting air quality both indoors and out. It has a major impact on climate as it absorbs heat and sunlight, warming the air. Although it only lingers in the atmosphere for about two weeks, one kilogram of black carbon can cause as much warming in that short time as 700 kilograms of carbon dioxide circulating in the atmosphere for 100 years, according to study leader Tami Bond, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the U. of I.

"There's a lot of interest right now in reducing black carbon as a quick way to reduce climate warming - a way to reduce warming in the immediate future, although not a full solution to long-term climate change," Bond said. "In its short lifetime of two weeks, it adds a lot of energy to the atmosphere. It's immediate warming now, which is why people are talking about reducing it."

Previously, emissions researchers did not consider kerosene lamps a large source of black carbon because of the relatively small amount of fuel used in a lamp verses other particle-emitting sources, such as cookstoves or diesel engines. However, the new measurements from the field show that 7 to 9 percent of fuel burned is converted to black carbon - a very high emission factor, making such lamps a major source of black carbon. In addition, unlike the cocktail of aerosol particles released by cookstoves and cooking fires, the dark curls rising from a kerosene lamp are nearly pure black carbon.

The good news is that there are inexpensive, easy alternatives that could curb black carbon emissions from lamps. For example, LED lamps charged by solar panels are becoming more popular. But an even easier fix would be to place a glass shield around the lamp, which reduces - though does not eliminate - the amount of black carbon particles that escape.

"Unlike cooking stoves, which also are very important health hazards but challenging to replace, people actually like to replace the kerosene lamps," Bond said. "When it comes to lamps, nobody says, 'I really like this tin can that I filled with kerosene.' It's a plausible, inexpensive way to reduce climate warming immediately, which is something we haven't really had in the black carbon field before."

The study authors hope that, with the new data in hand, agencies working in developing countries will implement lamp-replacement initiatives to develop and distribute affordable alternatives.

"Getting rid of kerosene lamps may seem like a small, inconsequential step to take," said study lead author Nicholas Lam, a UC Berkeley graduate student, "but when considering the collective impact of hundreds of millions of households, it's a simple move that affects the planet."
-end-
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Environmental Protection Agency supported this research.

Editor's note: To reach Tami Bond, call 217-244-5277; email yark@illinois.edu. The paper, "Household Light Makes Global Heat: High Black Carbon Emissions From Kerosene Wick Lamps," is available online.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Atmosphere Articles from Brightsurf:

ALMA shows volcanic impact on Io's atmosphere
New radio images from ALMA show for the first time the direct effect of volcanic activity on the atmosphere of Jupiter's moon Io.

New study detects ringing of the global atmosphere
A ringing bell vibrates simultaneously at a low-pitched fundamental tone and at many higher-pitched overtones, producing a pleasant musical sound. A recent study, just published in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences by scientists at Kyoto University and the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, shows that the Earth's entire atmosphere vibrates in an analogous manner, in a striking confirmation of theories developed by physicists over the last two centuries.

Estuaries are warming at twice the rate of oceans and atmosphere
A 12-year study of 166 estuaries in south-east Australia shows that the waters of lakes, creeks, rivers and lagoons increased 2.16 degrees in temperature and increased acidity.

What makes Saturn's atmosphere so hot
New analysis of data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft found that electric currents, triggered by interactions between solar winds and charged particles from Saturn's moons, spark the auroras and heat the planet's upper atmosphere.

Galactic cosmic rays affect Titan's atmosphere
Planetary scientists using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) revealed the secrets of the atmosphere of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

Physics: An ultrafast glimpse of the photochemistry of the atmosphere
Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have explored the initial consequences of the interaction of light with molecules on the surface of nanoscopic aerosols.

Using lasers to visualize molecular mysteries in our atmosphere
Molecular interactions between gases and liquids underpin much of our lives, but difficulties in measuring gas-liquid collisions have so far prevented the fundamental exploration of these processes.

The atmosphere of a new ultra hot Jupiter is analyzed
The combination of observations made with the CARMENES spectrograph on the 3.5m telescope at Calar Alto Observatory (Almería), and the HARPS-N spectrograph on the National Galileo Telescope (TNG) at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (Garafía, La Palma) has enabled a team from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and from the University of La Laguna (ULL) to reveal new details about this extrasolar planet, which has a surface temperature of around 2000 K.

An exoplanet loses its atmosphere in the form of a tail
A new study, led by scientists from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), reveals that the giant exoplanet WASP-69b carries a comet-like tail made up of helium particles escaping from its gravitational field propelled by the ultraviolet radiation of its star.

Iron and titanium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet
Exoplanets can orbit close to their host star. When the host star is much hotter than our sun, then the exoplanet becomes as hot as a star.

Read More: Atmosphere News and Atmosphere Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.