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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 01 Apr 2019

Research article | 01 Apr 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

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

Kun Li, John Liggio, Patrick Lee, Chong Han, Qifan Liu, and Shao-Meng Li Kun Li et al.
  • Air Quality Research Division, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Toronto, Ontario M3H 5T4, Canada

Abstract. 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 α-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 α-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 ~ 0.6–0.7) are significantly higher than those from the vapors from solvent use (naphtha), effluent from OS processing (tailing pond water) and from the solvent diluted bitumen (dilbit) (maximum of ~ 0.2–0.3), likely due to the volatility of each precursor mixture. A comparison of the yields and elemental ratios (H / C and O / 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 tailing 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.

Kun Li et al.
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Kun Li et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
A new oxidation flow reactor was developed and applied to study the secondary organic aerosol (SOA) formation from precursors associated with oil sands (OS) operations. The results reveal that the SOA yields from OS precursors are related to the volatilities of precursors, and that open-pit mining is the main source of SOA formed from oil sands. In addition, cyclic alkanes are found to play an important role in SOA formation from oil sands precursors.
A new oxidation flow reactor was developed and applied to study the secondary organic aerosol...