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Newly Identified Source of Black Carbon: Kerosene Lamps


Kerosene lamps are known to be the main source of light for many households in most developing nations. A study conducted by researchers at UC Barkeley and University of Illinois, however, found that these lamps, although very much needed, are also a major emitter of black carbon.

The lab and field results indicated 7-9% of the kerosene in lamps gets converted into black carbon when burning. These figures are very significant, especially considering that only 1 % of burned wood turns into this greenhouse gas.

The estimates of black carbon emissions from kerosene lamps are extremely high, compared to what is reported in different studies. It is known that the influence of one kilogram of black carbon on atmospheric temperature equals this of 700kilograms of carbon dioxide over 100 years.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The findings are released just as polices and plans for cutting down greenhouse gas emissions are being discussed in Doha, Qatar. The authors explain that while major changes are indeed needed, small ones could also contribute to fewer emissions- such as simply replacing kerosene.

Kirk Smith, professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and director of the Global Health and Environment Program and a co-author, is convinced that there are cleaner and much cheaper alternatives, which are readily available. These include lanterns powered by solar cells, or cook stoves that generate electricity from the heat they produce.

For their study, the researchers tested lamps bought in Uganda and Peru. The experiments were conducted both in the field and in the lab, with kerosene bought from both Uganda and the U.S.

Replacing kerosene with a cleaner source would not only reduce global emissions, but it will also have positive effects on human health. Study conducted by Smith and other researchers in Nepal indicated higher number of tuberculosis cases in homes where kerosene was used.

The lead author, Nicolas Lam, a UC Barkeley graduate student, is certain that a replacement would benefit hundreds of households across the planet.

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