Fighting Pollution to Slow Climate Change

Grant will allow assistant professor to study how black carbon affects air quality and public health

Akua Asa-Awuku, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering

Akua Asa-Awuku, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (—A University of California, Riverside assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering has received a $450,000 grant to study the impact of air-polluting black carbon particles as a way to mitigate climate change.

The three-year grant from the Environmental Protection Agency will also allow Akua Asa-Awuku, who does her research at the Center for Environmental Research and Technology at UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering, to study how black carbon affects air quality, and, subsequently, public health.

Asa-Awuku’s research focuses on the formation and composition of aerosols, particles such as black carbon that contribute to air pollution, with an emphasis on their ability to absorb water. Her primary interest is understanding and predicting the interactions of clouds and aerosols.

Clouds have an important role in climate change. They can reflect incoming solar radiation back into space to create a cooling effect, which counteracts the warming effects of greenhouse gases. Understanding aerosol-cloud-climate interactions is imperative for predicting the impact of climate change.

Black carbon particles and lighter-in-color organic carbon particles are emitted when carbon-based fuels are burned by everything from ships to airplanes to stoves in homes. Both these particles, which can be as small as a few nanometers, serve as seeds for rain formation. However, how the two types of carbon particles interact to form rain is not well understood.

Most global warming is caused by long-lived green house gases, which include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Short-lived particles, such as black carbon, also play a role. However, scientists understand less about the short-lived particles.

Now, more attention is being focused on the short-lived particles due to their high potential for mitigating climate change over a short time period.

Asa-Awuku will study the physical and chemical interaction of the particles at the Center for Environmental Research and Technology’s indoor atmospheric chamber, which is the world’s largest.

To study the tiny particles, Asa-Awuku will make optical measurements based on the color of carbon-based aerosol. Various organic compounds appear lighter in color than black carbon. Depending on how light or dark they are, like the difference between wearing a white or a dark shirt on a sunny day, the particles can have a cooling or warming effect in the atmosphere.

In addition to using the atmospheric chamber at the Center for Environmental Research and Technology, Asa-Awuku will also draw on the expertise of the center’s emissions and fuels researchers and Alternative Transportation Fuels Research Center of Excellence to measure the cloud droplet formation ability of black carbon emissions from engines burning diesel and biodiesel fuel blends.

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