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New FOX method estimates black carbon emissions from civil aviation ~2.7 times higher than standard estimates

Comparison between estimated EIBC and measured EIBC derived FOA3 (black open box), the FOA3 approach with the updated SN-CI correlation (blue triangle), and estimates obtained from the new FOX method (red circle) that are not dependent on SN. Credit: ACS, Stettler et al. Click to enlarge.

Using an alternative approach to determine the amount of black carbon (BC) emissions from civil aviation, researchers from the University of Cambridge, MIT, and Forschungszentrum Jülich have estimated that in 2005, total BC emissions from this sector were 16.9 Gg/year, with a fleet average emissions index (EIBC, the mass of BC emitted per kg of fuel burned) of 0.093 g/kg-fuel. These are a factor of ∼2.7 higher than estimates obtained using standard methods (6.3 Gg/year and 0.035 g/kg-fuel).

The new method, Formation OXidation (FOX), is an empirical method, independent of smoke number (SN), that the team developed to obtain EIBC for all engines in the fleet using only data available in the ICAO engine emissions databank (EDB) representing the physical mechanisms (with significant simplification) by which soot is formed and oxidized. A paper describing the method and the results is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

FOX, the authors suggest, is currently appropriate for engines burning conventional jet fuel since engine measurements from tests with conventional fuels are used to calibrate the model. However, it could subsequently be developed to capture the reductions in EIBC observed as a result of burning synthetic or other alternative fuels which contain fewer PAH compounds.

Aircraft gas turbine engines emit carbonaceous particles that warm Earth’s atmosphere, thereby contributing to climate change. Black carbon (BC) aerosols emitted by aircraft strongly absorb solar radiation and have a long lifetime relative to near-surface BC emissions, leading to a positive radiative forcing (RF). They are also thought to have a significant indirect influence by acting as ice nuclei in the formation of contrails and contributing to aviation-induced cloudiness. BC emitted by aircraft also contributes to the degradation of air quality, both globally and in the vicinity of airports.

The current regulations regarding aircraft particulate matter (PM) emissions were originally concerned with plume visibility during the landing and takeoff (LTO) cycle (i.e., near the ground). The regulation is applied through a limit on the engine smoke number (SN), the observed change in reflectance of a filter after sampling a given mass of exhaust. Current research efforts are focused toward defining a new standard procedure for measurement of BC mass emissions from aircraft at ground level for regulatory purposes, and several studies have measured aircraft engine BC emission indices (EI), that is, mass of BC emitted per kg of fuel burned. These measurements indicate that EIBC spans almost 4 orders of magnitude (5 × 10−4 to ∼1 g/kg-fuel) and is a function of engine model and thrust setting. However, EIBC has not been measured for the vast majority of engines currently in service. EIBC is typically estimated using the SN for LTO emissions, and no standard method exists for cruise emissions, with researchers typically applying ad hoc estimates of fleet-averaged EIBC.

...[In this paper] The accuracy of current methods used to estimate aircraft EIBC are evaluated, a new method appropriate to the data limitations is developed, an updated global estimate of aviation BC emissions is provided and the potential climatic importance of this for aviation is discussed. The purpose of the method developed is not to replace future direct measurements of EIBC, but to “backfill” the majority of the fleet for which emissions measurements are not available and may never be available given current information, and which will continue to be relevant for several decades.

—Stettler et al.

Reviewing current practice, the authors noted that at the introduction of the smoke number regulations, experiments correlated SN to BC mass concentration (CBC) in the engine exhaust. Subsequent studies used these correlations to estimate emission rates of BC from aircraft engines.

Currently the most rigorous method to estimate aircraft EIBC during landing and takeoff is the first-order approximation version 3.0 (FOA3), developed so that emissions from airports could be estimated. The FOA3 method proposes that EIBC is equal to the product of the mass concentration of BC, CBC (mg/m3), and the volumetric flow rate (Q)—that is, the volume of exhaust gas per kg of fuel burned (m3/kg-fuel).

Q is estimated by assuming an air-to-fuel ratio (AFR); however, engine AFRs are proprietary and in order to apply this methodology to all engines in the fleet, representative AFRs corresponding to four certification thrust settings are defined for use by FOA3. Up to now, the authors of the paper note, a comprehensive assessment of the CBC and Q components has not been published.

EIBC at cruise has been measured using a chase plane in the plume of the leading plane; results suggest that EIBC at cruise is ∼0.01 g/kg-fuel, although these measurements are representative of engines operating at reduced power (∼20% of maximum engine fuel flow).

The FOA3 technique, developed to estimate BC mass emissions normalized by fuel burn [EIBC] from SN, underestimates EIBC by >90% in 35% of directly measured cases (R2 = −0.10), according to the team.

As there are no plans to measure BC emissions from all existing certified engines—which will be in service for several decades—it is necessary to estimate EIBC for existing aircraft on the ground and at cruise. An alternative method, called FOX, that is independent of the SN is developed to estimate BC emissions. Estimates of EIBC at ground level are significantly improved (R2 = 0.68), whereas estimates at cruise are within 30% of measurements.

—Stettler et al.

Using the FOX method, the team founds that ∼9% of total fuel consumption and ∼14% of total BC emissions occur during the LTO cycle, reflecting the higher EIBC during high-thrust engine operations (i.e., takeoff and climb). The fleet average EIBC for LTO is ∼70% higher than that for cruise.

An earlier but recent study has estimated the direct radiative forcing due to aviation BC to be ∼0.0034 W/m2. Applying a linear scaling to account for the increased estimate of BC emissions from the FOX method, Stettler et al. estimated the direct RF due to aviation BC to be ∼0.0095 W/m2, equivalent to ∼1/3 of the RF due to CO2 (0.0280 W/m2) and ∼70% of the net RF due to aviation NOx emissions (0.0138 W/m2). If indirect RF due to aircraft BC (i.e., contrails and induced cirrus cloudiness) were taken into account, the impact of the updated BC emissions inventory is likely to be even more significant, the authors added. However, they also noted that there remains significant uncertainty in aviation direct BC RF estimates even given a specific BC emissions estimate.

...the FOX method provides an updated estimate of global aviation BC emissions. While it has been optimized to estimate EIBC during the LTO and shown to estimate EIBC at cruise with better accuracy than existing methods, further measurements of EIBC at cruise for flights that are representative of real operations (i.e., greater than ∼20% fuel flow) would be extremely valuable and could be used to validate the FOX method and the updated global inventory of aviation BC emissions.

—Stettler et al.


  • Marc E.J. Stettler, Adam M. Boies, Andreas Petzold and Steven R.H. Barrett (2013) Global Civil Aviation Black Carbon Emissions. Environmental Science & Technology doi: 10.1021/es401356v



This is just one more area where industries 'purposely' underestimate envionmental pollution?

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