Secondary organic aerosol formation from α-pinene, alkanes, and oil-sands-related precursors in a new oxidation flow reactor

Li, Kun; Liggio, John; Lee, Patrick; Han, Chong; Liu, Qifan; Li, Shao-Meng

Oil-sands (OS) operations in Alberta, Canada, are a large source of secondary organic aerosol (SOA). However, the SOA formation process from OS-related precursors remains poorly understood. In this work, a newly developed oxidation flow reactor (OFR), the Environment and Climate Change Canada OFR (ECCC-OFR), was characterized and used to study the yields and composition of SOA formed from OH oxidation of inline-formulaα-pinene, selected alkanes, and the vapors evolved from five OS-related samples (OS ore, naphtha, tailings pond water, bitumen, and dilbit). The derived SOA yields from inline-formulaα-pinene and selected alkanes using the ECCC-OFR were in good agreement with those of traditional smog chamber experiments but significantly higher than those of other OFR studies under similar conditions. The results also suggest that gas-phase reactions leading to fragmentation (i.e., C–C bond cleavage) have a relatively small impact on the SOA yields in the ECCC-OFR at high photochemical ages, in contrast to other previously reported OFR results. Translating the impact of fragmentation reactions in the ECCC-OFR to ambient atmospheric conditions reduces its impact on SOA formation even further. These results highlight the importance of careful evaluation of OFR data, particularly when using such data to provide empirical factors for the fragmentation process in models. Application of the ECCC-OFR to OS-related precursor mixtures demonstrated that the SOA yields from OS ore and bitumen vapors (maximum of inline-formula∼0.6–0.7) are significantly higher than those from the vapors from solvent use (naphtha), effluent from OS processing (tailings pond water), and from the solvent diluted bitumen (dilbit; maximum of inline-formula∼0.2–0.3), likely due to the volatility of each precursor mixture. A comparison of the yields and elemental ratios (inline-formulaH∕C and inline-formulaO∕C) of the SOA from the OS-related precursors to those of linear and cyclic alkane precursors of similar carbon numbers suggests that cyclic alkanes play an important role in the SOA formation in the OS. The analysis further indicates that the majority of the SOA formed downwind of OS facilities is derived from open-pit mining operations (i.e., OS ore evaporative emissions) rather than from higher-volatility precursors from solvent use during processing and/or tailings management. The current results have implications for improving the regional modeling of SOA from OS sources, for the potential mitigation of OS precursor emissions responsible for observed SOA downwind of OS operations, and for the understanding of petrochemical- and alkane-derived SOA in general.



Li, Kun / Liggio, John / Lee, Patrick / et al: Secondary organic aerosol formation from α-pinene, alkanes, and oil-sands-related precursors in a new oxidation flow reactor. 2019. Copernicus Publications.


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