Emissions: how harmful are they?

The January issue of Fuel Oil News considered the key takeaways from COP27 as well as energy sector challenges and opportunities. It also took a closer look at the subject of emissions – a word that crops up frequently in these discussions.

The truth behind the noise about emissions

Eliminox limited is a company that is committed to providing solutions for cleaner air and accelerating decarbonisation whilst working within the practical constraints that are dictating the need for carbon-based fuels for the foreseeable future and chairman, Prof. Tony Granger, considers the truth behind the noise about emissions and the importance of taking action now while we wait for future fuel solutions.

Is it all bad?

There are many reasons why carbon-based fuel emissions are considered harmful but, if we add in all the other emissions, such as methane and carbon dioxide produced by cattle, sulphurs and carbon dioxide produced by volcanoes, carbon dioxide produced by humans, carbon dioxide produced in the supply chain, carbon dioxide produced by businesses, ships or aeroplanes then the list becomes endless.

But is it all bad? We constantly hear how carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas equivalents known as CO2 are the major cause of climate change, melting ice caps, gaps in the ozone layer and countless other misfortunes.

What then is the percentage of CO2 to other gases in the earth’s immediate atmosphere? Given the current media noise surrounding it, one would expect it to be easily 70%, but the reality is that CO2 is naturally present in the air we breathe at a concentration of about 0.037% and, at low concentrations, is not harmful to health. So, less than half of 1% does not seem very significant. The impact on climate change becomes clearer when the considering the increased effect of CO2 concentrations doubling over the last 200 years.

Humans add around 35-billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, and as a result, global temperatures are increasing. If humanity continues to emit carbon dioxide at the current rate, the average global temperature could increase by as much as three to six degrees by the end of the century.

Temperature regulation

Earth’s atmosphere is primarily composed of nitrogen and oxygen. Nitrogen makes up 78% of the atmosphere and oxygen makes up 21% of the atmosphere. 0.9% is argon, and the remaining 0.1% is composed of various other gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Despite carbon dioxide making up only 0.04% of the atmosphere, it is one of the most important compounds in our atmosphere. The average surface

temperature of Earth is around 57 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius). Without any greenhouse gases, the Earth’s temperature would plummet to around minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius).

By regulating the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, one can regulate temperature – and control it. Reduce CO2 emissions

and you reduce the earth’s temperature. Right now, temperatures are generally rising and only the people who inhabit planet Earth can do something about it and that something is to both reduce the effect of CO2 emissions as well as eliminating them.

Despite the low concentration of emissions by volume it seems they do hold the key.

The general trend is movement away from the use of fossil fuels (which generates CO2) towards the use of alternative, mostly synthetic, fuels on the journey towards electrification. However, with supply chain issues in both battery manufacturing and rare earth metal mining, both still contribute to CO2. There are also issues with CO2 e being stored – the traditional method is to plant trees which operate as sinks for CO2. But,

if you chop down a tree, the CO2 stored escapes. Heavy logging in the Amazon is a major cause of global warming.

CO2 is not the only harmful emission

Whilst the general focus has been on what businesses, people and governments can do to reduce CO2 or, even, prevent it, research has shown that breathing in other harmful emissions, such as Particulate Matter (PMs), mostly from transport and personal /household activities, also results in harmful medical conditions such as respiratory, blood and circulation, and heart conditions.

Can carbon dioxide be beneficial? The answer is a resounding YES. Plants and trees need CO2 to breathe, and in doing so, release oxygen which many industries benefit from, carbonated drinks, a refrigerant in heat pumps and cooling, in fire extinguishers and baking bread. There are companies that actually manufacture carbon dioxide for these requirements.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) occurs when human beings breathe out, when carbon is burnt in the air, when carbohydrates ferment, or when acid reacts with limestone, for example.

The problem now facing businesses (and Governments) in their quest for CO2 reduction at all costs, is the significant cost incurred. In advocating a total sea change from combustion vehicles to electric or alternative fuels is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Oil will still be required for hundreds of years – it is used to manufacture paraffin wax, lubricants, petro-chemicals, asphalt, propane gas, plastic, household paint, insect repellent, glue, artificial limbs, hair brushes, credit cards and countless other products – including fuel for planes and ships.

The oil itself is not the problem (although it is associated with it) – it is the use of the oil or the range of products it is refined to. When the oil is burned, or combusts, it gives off harmful emissions.

An immediate impact

The use of alternative fuels, such as HVO and other biofuels has already been shown to reduce CO2. However, with so many people around the world starving, it is difficult to justify extensive usage of any derived from agricultural crops meaning that feedstock options to scale up production are limited.

New carbon neutral or carbon negative fuels may well be the answer to many of these problems, but the level of investment required means they are not yet widely available.

Given the scale of the challenge to get to the long-term solution it is important to find solutions that can make an immediate difference. One of these is Eliminox Eco a cost-neutral, green tech-based fuel conditioner, developed by Eliminox. Used to treat carbon-based fuels at manufacture or in fuel tanks, prior to being combusted, Eliminox Eco results in the reduction of many emissions including NOx, CO2 and, importantly, the life-threatening sooty particles arising from highly concentrated transport emissions, PM 2.5 and PM 10.