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Atmospheric Measurement Techniques An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/amt-2020-44
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/amt-2020-44
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 04 Mar 2020

Submitted as: research article | 04 Mar 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal AMT.

A new approach for measuring the carbon and oxygen content of atmospherically-relevant compounds and mixtures

James F. Hurley1, Nathan M. Kreisberg2, Braden Stump3, Chenyang Bi1, Purushottam Kumar1, Susanne V. Hering2, Pat Keady3, and Gabriel Isaacman-VanWertz1 James F. Hurley et al.
  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, 24061
  • 2Aerosol Dynamics Inc., Berkeley, CA, 94710
  • 3Aerosol Devices Inc., Fort Collins, CO, 80524

Abstract. While the mass of particulate matter is monitored worldwide, only a few automated approaches exist to characterize its composition in any detail. All approaches require relatively high capital costs and complex operation by highly trained technical personnel. This leaves a major gap in understanding the health and environmental impacts of particulate matter. In this work, we demonstrate a new approach to estimate the mass of carbon and oxygen in analytes and mixtures that relies only on robust, moderate cost detectors designed for use with gas chromatography. Organic compounds entering a flame ionization detector were found to be converted with 95 % efficiency to CO2, which was analysed downstream using an infrared detector to measure the mass of carbon analysed. The ratio of FID signal generated per CO2 formed (FID / CO2) was shown to be strongly correlated (R2 = 0.89) to the oxygen-to-carbon ratio (O / C) of the analyte. Furthermore, simple mixtures of analytes behaved as the weighted average of their components, indicating that this correlation extends to mixtures. These properties were also observed to correlate well with the sensitivity of the FID estimated by structure activity relationships (quantified as the relative Effective Carbon Number). The relationships between measured FID / CO2, analyte O / C, and FID sensitivity allow estimation of one property from another with < 5 % error for mixtures and < 20 % error for most individual analytes. The approach opens the possibility of field-deployable, autonomous measurement of the carbon and oxygen content of particulate matter using time-tested, low-maintenance detectors. Moreover, potential expansion to additional gas chromatography detectors may provide concurrent measurement of other elements (e.g. sulfur, nitrogen).

James F. Hurley et al.

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James F. Hurley et al.

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Latest update: 05 Apr 2020
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Short summary
The chemical composition of aerosols has implications for human and ecosystem health. Current methods for determining chemical composition are expensive and require highly-trained personnel. Our method is promising for moderate-cost, low-maintenance measurements of oxygen/carbon ratios, a key chemical parameter, and other elements may be studied as well. In this work, we coupled two commonly used detectors to assess O2/2C ratios in a variety of compounds and mixtures within an acceptable error.
The chemical composition of aerosols has implications for human and ecosystem health. Current...
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