Issue 1, 2023

Formation of insoluble brown carbon through iron-catalyzed reaction of biomass burning organics


Biomass burning organic aerosol (BBOA) is one of the largest sources of organics in the atmosphere. Mineral dust and biomass burning smoke frequently co-exist in the same atmospheric environment. Common biomass burning compounds, such as dihydroxybenzenes and their derivatives, are known to produce light-absorbing, water-insoluble polymeric particles upon reaction with soluble Fe(III) under conditions characteristic of aerosol liquid water. However, such reactions have not been tested in realistic mixtures of BBOA compounds. In this study, model organic aerosol (OA), meant to replicate BBOA from smoldering fires, was generated through the pyrolysis of Canary Island pine needles in a tube furnace at 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, and 800 °C in nitrogen gas, and the water-soluble fractions were reacted with iron chloride under dark, acidic conditions. We utilized spectrophotometry to monitor the reaction progress. For OA samples produced at lower temperatures (300 and 400 °C), particles (P300 and P400) formed in solution, were syringe filtered, and extracted in organic solvents. Analysis was conducted with ultrahigh pressure liquid chromatography coupled to a photodiode array spectrophotometer and a high-resolution mass spectrometer (UHPLC-PDA-HRMS). For OA samples formed at higher pyrolysis temperatures (500–800 °C), water-insoluble, black particles (P500–800) formed in solution. In contrast to P300 and P400, P500–800 were not soluble in common solvents. Scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) were used to image P600 and determine bulk elemental composition. Electron microscopy revealed that P600 had fractal morphology, reminiscent of soot particles, and contained no detectable iron. These results suggest that light-absorbing aerosol particles can be produced from Fe(III)-catalyzed reactions in aging BBOA plumes produced from smoldering combustion in the absence of any photochemistry. This result has important implications for understanding the direct and indirect effects of aged BBOA on climate.

Graphical abstract: Formation of insoluble brown carbon through iron-catalyzed reaction of biomass burning organics

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Article information

Article type
26 Oct 2022
08 Dec 2022
First published
08 Dec 2022
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Environ. Sci.: Atmos., 2023,3, 207-220

Formation of insoluble brown carbon through iron-catalyzed reaction of biomass burning organics

K. S. Hopstock, B. P. Carpenter, J. P. Patterson, H. A. Al-Abadleh and S. A. Nizkorodov, Environ. Sci.: Atmos., 2023, 3, 207 DOI: 10.1039/D2EA00141A

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