Atmospheric impacts of black carbon emission reductions through the strategic use of biodiesel in California

Hongliang Zhang, Kento T. Magara-Gomez, Michael R. Olson, Tomoaki Okuda, Kenneth A. Walz, James J. Schauer, Michael J. Kleeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The use of biodiesel as a replacement for petroleum-based diesel fuel has gained interest as a strategy for greenhouse gas emission reductions, energy security, and economic advantage. Biodiesel adoption may also reduce particulate elemental carbon (EC) emissions from conventional diesel engines that are not equipped with after-treatment devices. This study examines the impact of biodiesel blends on EC emissions from a commercial off-road diesel engine and simulates the potential public health benefits and climate benefits. EC emissions from the commercial off-road engine decreased by 76% when ultra-low sulfur commercial diesel (ULSD) fuel was replaced by biodiesel. Model calculations predict that reduced EC emissions translate directly into reduced EC concentrations in the atmosphere, but the concentration of secondary particulate matter was not directly affected by this fuel change. Redistribution of secondary particulate matter components to particles emitted from other sources did change the size distribution and therefore deposition rates of those components. Modification of meteorological variables such as water content and temperature influenced secondary particulate matter formation. Simulations with a source-oriented WRF/Chem model (SOWC) for a severe air pollution episode in California that adopted 75% biodiesel blended with ULSD in all non-road diesel engines reduced surface EC concentrations by up to 50% but changed nitrate and total PM2.5 mass concentrations by less than ±. 5%. These changes in concentrations will have public health benefits but did not significantly affect radiative forcing at the top of the atmosphere. The removal of EC due to the adoption of biodiesel produced larger coatings of secondary particulate matter on other atmospheric particles containing residual EC leading to enhanced absorption associated with those particles. The net effect was a minor change in atmospheric optical properties despite a large change in atmospheric EC concentrations. These results emphasize the importance of considering EC mixing state in climate research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)412-422
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Biodiesel
  • Black carbon
  • Off-road engines
  • SOWC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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