A Ljubljana-based company is leading the global charge in technology used to measure concentrations of black carbon, a powerful pollutant whose role in climate change is only gradually being understood. Aerosol’s innovative solutions in black carbon measuring instruments have helped it capture as much as 80% of the global market.
Aerosol has based its growth on the development of technology for measuring concentrations of black carbon. The company’s aim is to continually perfect the technology, director Dr Griša Močnik has told the STA.
It is only in recent years that black carbon has been identified as one of the leading contributors to climate change. A product of incomplete combustion of fuels, it is a component in fine particulate matter which contributes to global warming by absorbing sunlight and heating the atmosphere.
“The easiest way to describe it is the soot we see coming out of the exhaust of an old truck,” says Močnik.
A four-year scientific study whose results were published in 2013 concluded that it is the second most important contributor to global warming behind only carbon dioxide.
Given black carbon’s role in global warming, technology allowing its measurement has quickly caught on and Aerosol has become a leading global producer of measuring instruments.
Development and production of measuring instruments is based in Ljubljana, while the company has established cooperation with scientific institutions from around the world, which have helped perfect the technology.
The feedback from the work performed on concrete projects is crucial in understanding how to upgrade existing technology, says Močnik. “Only once you put yourself in the role of a user of your instruments can you develop better products. This is why participation in scientific projects is very important for us.”
Its central measuring device, the Aethalometer AE 33, has been developed in cooperation with the PSI institute from Switzerland. In addition to cooperation with scientists from around the world, the company has also put emphasis on its own research work. Of the 16 persons it currently employs, six have science PhDs.
The key challenge in measuring black carbon concentrations is its short life span – unlike carbon dioxide, which has an atmospheric lifespan of 100 years, black carbon remains in the atmosphere for only a few weeks – which means that it can present unevenly. Obtaining accurate results therefore requires multiple measurements.
To obtain results relevant for gauging the impact on global warming, measurements must be taken across different levels of the atmosphere. But these require great resources, says Močnik.
The company has therefore sought to partake in various projects around the world connected to the measurement of black carbon. In its biggest project to date, it participated in the creation of a national network of measuring stations for black carbon in India.
Aerosol instruments have been incorporated into the stations which dot India from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. In addition to the instruments, the company has also developed the hardware and software for collecting and analysing the data.
The project is expected to open new doors for the company in the US and Europe, having shown that the company can set up a measuring stations in almost all conditions and regardless of the state of existing infrastructure.
In its latest project, the company’s instruments have been fitted to an ultralight plane that Slovenian explorer Matevž Lenarčič will fly around the world as part of his latest expedition. It is one of three projects in which the company is obtaining measurements with the help of ultralight aircraft.
Lenarčič’s expedition, dubbed GreenLight WorldFlight 2016, will collect data at an altitude of three kilometres. He will cover areas where black carbon measurements have already been collected and in those where data is lacking.
In order to allow the use of the measurement technology on an ultralight plane, the company has had to redesign the instruments it to make them smaller and lighter. Sensitivity has also been improved. With the round-the-world flight the company is hoping to show that a new way of measuring black carbon is possible.
While such measurements have so far required expensive technology, the use in an ultralight aircraft enables decentralised collection with technology that is much more affordable, says Močnik. “As a producer of measuring instruments, it is important that we can make technology more accessible by creating new ways of conducting measurements.”
The company wants to make the data obtained with the use of ultralight aircraft available to the general public and also to the scientific community for use in the development of climate models.
As efforts to limit global warming becomes a key priority around the world, Aerosol sees major potential for increased uptake of black carbon measuring instruments.
Unlike carbon dioxide, regulation of black carbon is much more politically acceptable, says Močnik, who says that limiting carbon dioxide output essentially requires a reduction in energy consumption. “This is where the political problems start.”
Technology for reducing black carbon already exists and given its short lifespan, efforts to reduce its concentrations in the atmosphere would have much more rapid effects. A cut in black carbon emissions would slow down the rate of global warming and create the time to establish effective and workable models for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Močnik reckons.
In addition to transport, the biggest emitter of black carbon at the present is the burning of biomass, such as wood and waste.
In Slovenia, the use of wood as a heating fuel has become popular again in recent years, which has resulted in a deterioration of the quality of air and an increase in black carbon concentrations.
While wood is a renewable fuel from the perspective of carbon dioxide, this is not true from the perspective of other carbon particle. Močnik believes this necessitates efforts to promote the use of centralised heating solutions where black carbon output can be suppressed.