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Towards the isolation and estimation of elemental carbon in atmospheric aerosols using supercritical fluid extraction and thermo-optical analysis

Azeem, Hafiz Abdul, Martinsson, Johan, Stenström, Kristina Eriksson, Swietlicki, Erik, Sandahl, Margareta
Analytical and bioanalytical chemistry 2017 v.409 no.17 pp. 4293-4300
aerosols, biomass, carbon, carbon dioxide, combustion, fossil fuels, methanol, pyrolysis, solvents, supercritical fluid extraction, temperature
Air-starved combustion of biomass and fossil fuels releases aerosols, including airborne carbonaceous particles, causing negative climatic and health effects. Radiocarbon analysis of the elemental carbon (EC) fraction can help apportion sources of its emission, which is greatly constrained by the challenges in isolation of EC from organic compounds in atmospheric aerosols. The isolation of EC using thermo-optical analysis is however biased by the presence of interfering compounds that undergo pyrolysis during the analysis. EC is considered insoluble in all acidic, basic, and organic solvents. Based on the property of insolubility, a sample preparation method using supercritical CO₂ and methanol as co-solvent was developed to remove interfering organic compounds. The efficiency of the method was studied by varying the density of supercritical carbon dioxide by means of temperature and pressure and by varying the methanol content. Supercritical CO₂ with 10% methanol by volume at a temperature of 60 °C, a pressure of 350 bar and 20 min static mode extraction were found to be the most suitable conditions for the removal of 59 ± 3% organic carbon, including compounds responsible for pyrolysis with 78 ± 16% EC recovery. The results indicate that the method has potential for the estimation and isolation of EC from OC for subsequent analysis methods and source apportionment studies.