Problems Everyone Has With Diesel Hydrocarbon Emissions – How To Solve Them

Reducing Diesel Pollution with Rentar

Hydrocarbons are a double-edged sword. On one hand, hydrocarbon emissions constitute both the largest sum of pollutants from fossil fuel combustion and the most dangerous. On the other hand, hydrocarbons are the single most critical component of modern society. Hydrocarbons make the world go around. Literally, hydrocarbons are the reason we can travel and move goods around the world. And, the vast majority of those goods are products of hydrocarbons.

Hydrocarbons — petroleum — are used to make everything from crayons, toothpaste, clothes, and aspirin to vehicles, computers, cell phones, and medical supplies. Simply, hydrocarbons are the cornerstone of society. Because hydrocarbons combust, we have reached the moon, traveled to every corner of the Earth, ship and fly what we manufacture around the world, and are mobile as a world society.

Right now, we have no more efficient source of power on the planet than hydrocarbon combustion.

The Problem with Hydrocarbons: Hydrocarbon Emissions

Hydrocarbon emissions, though, could result in the worse possible of consequences. Hydrocarbon emissions are raising the temperature of our atmosphere, oceans, and earth. Hydrocarbons pollute our water sources, stunt the growth of crops, endanger forests, and cause cancer in both humans and animals. 

We have no choice but to get our hydrocarbon emissions under control. So reliant upon hydrocarbon combustion that not only do we refuse to stop using fossil fuels, if we were to do so, the consequences would be disastrous on a global scale. 

Our only option, then, is to learn how to maximize the efficiency of hydrocarbon combustion, maximize the efficiency of hydrocarbon combustion consumption, and minimize hydrocarbon emissions to the greatest possible degree.

What Exactly Are Hydrocarbons?

The term hydrocarbon refers to the chemical composition of a chemical compound on a molecular level. Hydrocarbons are carbon/hydrogen isomers. That means hydrocarbons are made of two — and only two — elements: carbon and hydrogen. 

The isomer chains that constitute the hydrocarbon family include methane (the commercial marketing name of which is “natural gas,”) propane, butane, pentane, ethane, diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, kerosene, fuel oil, bunker fuel, and several less common hydrogen and carbon compounds. The number of carbon and hydrogen atoms in a hydrocarbon isomer chain determines the type of hydrocarbon it is.

The chemical composition of methane — the least valuable and one of the most destructive hydrocarbons — for example, is one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. That is a carbon-to-hydrogen ratio of 1-to-4. A considerably more valuable hydrocarbon gas is propane. It has three carbon atoms for every eight hydrogen atoms. Extremely valuable hydrocarbon gases like hexane have ratios of carbon to hydrogen that are closer to 1-to-2.

The fewer the carbon atoms per number of hydrogen atoms, the less energy the hydrocarbon produces and the less valuable it is. That does not, however, mean less valuable hydrocarbons pollute less or do less damage to the environment. It merely means they produce less energy when they combust.

There are three types of hydrocarbons. There are saturated hydrocarbons, unsaturated hydrocarbons, and there are aromatic hydrocarbons. Each type of hydrocarbon isomer has different compound traits. Each hydrocarbon isomer combusts differently. And, each type of hydrocarbon produces different combustion emissions.

What Causes Hydrocarbon Emissions?

Hydrocarbon emissions are a product of one of two combustion processes: complete combustion and incomplete combustion. The complete combustion of a fossil produces only two emissions: carbon dioxide and water. While both are greenhouse gases with high global warming potential, neither are toxic. 

But, the complete combustion of a fuel is — currently — impossible to obtain. Both the nature of fossil fuels and the limitations of technology make a complete burn possible only in theory. As a result, to one degree or another, all combustion is incomplete.  

Incomplete combustion, unlike complete combustion which generates only two types of emissions, produces a large number of both high-global-warming potential greenhouse gases and gases that are toxic to fauna, flora, and people. Just a few of the dangerous gases that result from incomplete combustion include cancer-causing volatile organics like benzene, acetone, xylene, and toluene as well as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrous oxide (NO), sodium dioxide (SO2).

Incomplete combustion not only includes the generation of GHG and toxic gases, but it is also the release of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere completely unburned. In some cases, hydrocarbons moving through a combustion system without burning are not an issue because the hydrocarbons are inert. But, some hydrocarbon fuels are themselves, greenhouse gases. 

For example, methane, which constitutes 90 to 95 percent of natural gas, is considered by many scientists to be the single most dangerous greenhouse gas. It has a global warming potential dozens of times greater that of carbon dioxide. Explains the EPA: 

“Methane (CH4) is estimated to have a GWP of 28–36 over 100 years. CH4 emitted today lasts about a decade on average, which is much less time wise than CO2. But CH4 also absorbs much more energy than CO2. The net effect of the shorter lifetime and higher energy absorption is reflected in the GWP. The CH4 GWP also accounts for some indirect effects, such as the fact that CH4 is a precursor to ozone, and ozone is itself a GHG.”

Not only do hydrocarbons produce hydrocarbon emissions pollutants, some hydrocarbons are themselves GHG pollutants.

Which Fossil Fuels Produce the Most Hydrocarbons?

Defining words like produce and most is difficult with respect to hydrocarbons. Typically, fossil fuel emissions are associated with fossil fuel combustion. But to only consider combustion emissions is a wholly inadequate means of measuring fossil fuel pollution. It is also an extremely ingenious means of comparing “clean” versus “dirty” fuels.

Only considering combustion emissions means ignoring the damage done during the drilling/mining, transportation, refining/conditioning, and distribution stages of fossil fuel production. Many of the most dangerous greenhouse gases are not associated with combustion per se. 

Problem with Only Considering Combustion Emissions

Methane, as the example again, has an extremely high greenhouse gas warming potential, but when it combusts, methane produces very little carbon dioxide in relation to other fossil fuels, because hydrogen atoms make up the majority of a methane molecule. 

But, that’s not to say methane is a clean fuel. Drilling for methane produces incredible amounts of fugitive methane gas that escapes into the atmosphere. So does the transportation, conditioning, and storage of natural gas. Gasoline and jet fuel also evaporate into the atmosphere, evaporation being a non-combustion emission that produces hydrocarbon pollution. 

The production of electricity is another example of the problem with only accounting for combustion emissions. 

“Analyzing up-and downstream processes and their associated GHG emissions, which arise upstream and downstream of the power plant (i.e., electricity generation stage), is important; otherwise, the GHG emissions resulting from electricity generation of the various fuel options are underestimated. 

For fossil fuel technology options upstream GHG emission rates can be up to 25% of the direct emissions from the power plant, whereas for most RETs and nuclear power upstream and downstream GHG emissions can account for way over 90% of cumulative emissions.”

And of course, there is combustion. Even the cleanest hydrocarbon fuels pollute the air upon combustion. Coal, which is the most stable of all fossil fuels, is inert. It does not emit pollution during mining — with the exception of fugitive methane gas that escapes, — transportation, or distribution. However, it pollutes mightily when burned. 

Emissions of Hydrocarbons through Life Cycle of Fossil Fuels

Every fossil fuel generates different types of pollution, a consequence of the fact that every fossil fuel is comprised of different types of hydrocarbons. Fossil fuels with small, low-energy-density hydrocarbon molecules typically generate less pollution during combustion but have a tendency to produce greater sums of pollution throughout the entirety of their life cycles. 

High energy dense fossil fuels produce more hydrocarbon pollution during combustion, but because they are more stable fuels, they produce fewer emissions during their life cycle. As a result, it is important to look at each fuel individually with respect to emissions.

Bunker Fuel, Fuel Oil, and Diesel Life Cycle Emissions

Of the liquid fossil fuels, bunker fuel, fuel oil, and diesel are the most stable. That means the chemical composition of the three fuels is primarily made up of large quantities of large hydrocarbon molecules. As a result of the fact that large hydrocarbon molecules do not oxygenate as efficiently as smaller hydrocarbon molecules, combustion emissions are higher. 

But again, combustion emissions do not tell the whole story. Bunker fuel, fuel oil, and diesel are very stable and do not evaporate easily. That means there is very little emission pollution generated by these “heavy” fuels at the beginning and intermediate stages of their life cycle. 

Almost all of the pollution generated by bunker fuel, fuel oil, and diesel occur at combustion.

Gasoline Life Cycle Emissions

While considerably more stable than gas-state fossil fuels like methane and propane, gasoline is unstable in relation to bunker fuel, fuel oil, and diesel. That means gasoline perpetually evaporates throughout its life cycle. Gasoline evaporates at a very high rate, in fact, a much greater rate than even water. 

“One characteristic of gas is volatility, a term used to describe how easily and under what conditions the gas vaporizes so it can be efficiently burned in your car’s engine. The most highly volatile components in gasoline also tend to evaporate over time.” 

As a result of its instability, gasoline hydrocarbons found in crude oil — hydrocarbons like octane — begin evaporating and polluting the air from the moment a well is drilled. During extraction, during transportation, and during refinement, gasoline emissions pollute the atmosphere right through the combustion stage.

Gas-State Fossil Fuel Life Cycle Emissions

Often labeled “clean” fuels, gas fossil fuels are extremely volatile. Already in a gas state, many gas fossil fuels are already GHGs — methane for example — are toxic emissions. As a result of the fact that most gas fossil fuels are of low energy density, small hydrocarbon molecule compounds, gas fossil fuels combust quickly and easily.

However, gas fossil fuels are extremely difficult to capture and control. Fugitive gases that escape into the atmosphere as pollutants do so at almost every stage of their life cycle. The explains, 

“Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an American regulator, has introduced its first regulations specifically aimed at capping methane emissions, acknowledging it has underestimated the problem. It has lifted its estimate of the amount of methane that leaked out of the natural-gas and oil supply chain in America in 2013 by about 30%—a massive revision. 

Steve Hamburg, EDF’s chief scientist, says that still leaves out the “fat-tail” super-emissions. He reckons about 2-2.5% of the gas flowing through the American supply chain leaks out, in total.”

It is estimated that methane is lost into the atmosphere as a fugitive gas at a rate of between 10 and 15 percent and at even higher rates in developing countries. Methane gas has a global warming potential 25 times — not percent, times — greater than carbon dioxide.

While gas fuels may burn cleaner than their fossil fuel counterparts, it is a naive or wishful thinking to consider them as “clean” alternative fuels. 

What are the Effects of Hydrocarbon Emissions

Hydrocarbon emissions have an effect on everything from the composition of the atmosphere to the health of plants, animals, and people. With respect to the atmosphere, the biggest current concern — and arguably the greatest threat to humanity — is global warming. 

Statistics show that the number of hydrocarbon emissions dumped into the atmosphere on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis are exponentially higher than they were less than 50 years ago. According to the World Resources Institute, we produce an astounding 190 times the amount of pollution into the air than we did in 1970. And according to the UK’s, that has resulted in staggering consequences. 

In an interview with the Guardian, Gavin Schmidt — director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies — said, 

“In the last 30 years, we have really moved into an exceptional territory. It’s unprecedented in 1,000 years. There’s no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination (of temperatures).

Maintaining temperatures below the 1.5C guardrail requires significant and very rapid cuts in carbon dioxide emissions or co-ordinated geo-engineering. That is very unlikely. We are not even yet making emissions cuts commensurate with keeping warming below 2C.”

And global warming is not the only issue. Hydrocarbon pollution is poisoning our oceans, plants and animals, and people. Even the Earth itself is becoming toxic as a result of pollution. 

Taking a Step toward Reducing Diesel Emissions with Rentar Fuel Catalyst while Reducing Fuel Costs

The Rentar Fuel Catalyst has proven to reduce boiler fuel consumption by up to 30 percent. That is a fuel savings of an astounding 30 percent. However, that is not nearly as impressive as the boiler and furnace emissions reduction produced by the Rentar. Black smoke — an emission that is almost inherent in Boiler fuel, particularly bunker fuel — falls by 44 percent with the Rentar. 

With the Rentar Fuel Catalyst, up to  19 percent of the greenhouse gases associated with diesel fuel combustion disappear as do between 19 and 59 percent of cancer causing volatile organics.

It is unrealistic to expect a global shift away from fossil fuels because there is no alternative that is remotely close to as productive and efficient. That means we must learn to burn fossil fuels in a manner efficient enough to reduce emissions significantly.


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