Impacts of co-firing biomass on emissions of particulate matter to the atmosphere

Significance Statement

Since 2003, University of Iowa Facilities Management has worked to reduce the use of fossil fuels by replacing it with biomass, a process termed co-firing. Burning any fuel releases a cornucopia of substances into the atmosphere. Burning coal releases carbon dioxide, the most significant driver of greenhouse warming; sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that contribute to acid rain and smog; particulate matter that can contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory disease; carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and many potentially toxic and/or carcinogenic metals.

Emissions tests were undertaken in April-May 2014 to determine how co-firing affects emissions of air pollutants. Co-firing 50% oat hulls (by weight) was found to significantly reduce a wide range of airborne pollutants. Criteria pollutants showed substantial reductions: carbon dioxide from fossil sources decreased by 39%, sulfur dioxide emissions dropped by 40%, and filterable particulate matter fell by 90%.  PAH, defined as hazardous air pollutants, decreased by 41%. Meanwhile, total metals dropped by 51%, with substantial reductions in manganese, copper, nickel, and zinc.

Decreases in pollutant emissions are attributed to the lower levels of sulfur and metals in biomass compared to coal requiring less limestone be input to the fluidized bed boiler to control sulfur dioxide, and the fact that oat hulls burn rather completely, leaving less unburned carbon behind.

Impacts of co-firing biomass on emissions of particulate matter to the atmosphere. Renewable Energy Global Innovations

About the author

Armando D. Estillore obtained his B.S. in chemistry from MSU-IIT, Iligan City, Philippines and his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Wayne State University under Prof. Arthur G. Suits in 2012. His doctoral work on the reaction dynamics of radicals with polyatomic hydrocarbons using crossed-beam ion imaging techniques earned the Dan Trivich Memorial Award for research in physical chemistry.

He was a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Chemistry at UC Berkeley prior to joining the group of Prof. Vicki H. Grassian at the University of Iowa and the University of California, San Diego where he is currently a postdoctoral researcher. 

About the author

Ibrahim Al-Naiema is doctoral student in Chemistry at the University of Iowa. His research focuses on analyzing organic compounds in the atmospheric aerosols and understanding their sources. He received his M. Sc. in chemistry at the University of Basrah, Iraq, and worked as a lecturer at the same university for six years before joining Stone research group in 2012.  

About the author

Elizabeth A. Stone is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Iowa. She earned her bachelor of art’s degree from Grinnell College in 2005 with majors in Chemistry (with honors) and French (with honors).  She completed her doctoral degree in 2009 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Environmental Chemistry & Technology for her thesis entitled Source Apportionment of Carbonaceous Aerosol in Different Regions of the World.

Since joining the University of Iowa in 2010, her research has focused on advancing our understanding of the chemical composition and sources of particulate matter in the atmosphere, through a combination of analytical, environmental, and organic chemistry.  She uses chromatography and mass spectrometry to improve measurements of atmospheric pollutants and source apportionment techniques to link pollution to its sources. 

Journal Reference

Ibrahim Al-Naiema1,2, Armando D. Estillore1, Imali A. Mudunkotuwa1, Vicki H. Grassian1, Elizabeth A. Stone1. Impacts of co-firing biomass on emissions of particulate matter to the atmosphere. Fuel, Volume 162, 15 December 2015, Pages 111–120.

Show Affiliations
  1. Chemistry Department, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA
  2. Chemistry Department, College of Sciences, University of Basrah, Basrah, Iraq



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