Diesel exhaust

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Distinguish from Diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), which is an aqueous urea solution made of 32.5% high purity urea and 67.5% deionized water, used in selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to reduce NOx concentration in exhaust emissions of diesel engines.
Diesel locomotive

Diesel exhaust is produced inside diesel engines, where conditions differ considerably from spark-ignition engines. Diesel engine power is directly controlled by the fuel supply, not by controlling the air supply as in conventional gasoline engines. When the engine runs at idle, enough oxygen is present to burn the fuel completely. Diesel engines only make significant amounts of smoke when running without enough oxygen. This is usually mitigated in a turbocharged diesel engine.

Diesel exhaust is known for its characteristic smell, but this has largely disappeared in recent years following reductions in sulfur content.

Diesel exhaust is believed to contain toxic air contaminants and is listed as a possible carcinogen for humans by the IARC in group 1.[1] Diesel fuel also contains fine particles associated with negative health effects. Diesel exhaust pollution was thought to account for around one quarter of the pollution in the air in previous decades, and a high share of sickness caused by automotive pollution.[2]

The lean-burning nature of diesel engines and the high temperatures and pressures of the combustion process result in significant production of nitrogen oxides, and provides a unique challenge in reducing these compounds. Modern on-road diesel engines typically use selective catalytic reduction to meet emissions laws, as other methods such as exhaust gas recirculation cannot adequately reduce NOx to meet newer standards in many jurisdictions. However, the fine particulate matter (sometimes visible as opaque dark-colored smoke) has traditionally been of greater concern in the realm of diesel exhaust, as it presents different health concerns and is rarely produced in significant quantities by spark-ignition engines.

Diesel engines produce very little carbon monoxide as they burn the fuel in excess air even at full load, at which point the quantity of fuel injected per cycle is still about 50 percent lean of stoichiometric.

Occupational health effects[edit]

Exposure to diesel exhaust and diesel particulate matter (DPM) is an occupational hazard to truckers, railroad workers, and miners using diesel-powered equipment in underground mines. Adverse health effects have also been observed in the general population at ambient atmospheric particle concentrations well below the concentrations in occupational settings.

In March 2012, U.S. government scientists showed that underground miners exposed to high levels of diesel fumes have a threefold increased risk for contracting lung cancer compared with those exposed to low levels. The $11.5 million Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study (DEMS) followed 12,315 miners, controlling for key carcinogens such as cigarette smoke, radon, and asbestos. This allowed scientists to isolate the effects of diesel fumes.[3][4]

For over 10 years, concerns have been raised in the USA regarding children's exposure to DPM as they ride diesel-powered school buses to and from school.[5] The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established the Clean School Bus USA initiative in an effort to unite private and public organizations in curbing student exposures.[6]

Particulate health effects[edit]

Diesel combustion exhaust is a source of atmospheric soot and fine particles, which is a fraction of air pollution implicated in human cancer,[7][8] heart and lung damage,[9] and mental functioning.[10] Diesel exhaust also contains nanoparticles, which have additional health impacts, and are as yet poorly understood.[citation needed]


Diesel particulate matter (DPM), sometimes also called diesel exhaust particles (DEP), is the particulate component of diesel exhaust, which includes diesel soot and aerosols such as ash particulates, metallic abrasion particles, sulfates, and silicates. When released into the atmosphere, DPM can take the form of individual particles or chain aggregates, with most in the invisible sub-micrometre range of 100 nanometers, also known as ultrafine particles (UFP) or PM0.1.

The main particulate fraction of diesel exhaust consists of fine particles. Because of their small size, inhaled particles may easily penetrate deep into the lungs. The rough surfaces of these particles makes it easy for them to bind with other toxins in the environment, thus increasing the hazards of particle inhalation.

Health effects[edit]

Exposures have been linked with acute short-term symptoms such as headache, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, coughing, difficult or labored breathing, tightness of chest, and irritation of the eyes and nose and throat[citation needed]. Long-term exposures could lead to chronic, more serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, and lung cancer.[7][8][11] The NERC-HPA funded 'Traffic Pollution and Health in London' project at King's College London is currently seeking to refine our understanding of the health effects of traffic pollution. Ambient traffic-related air pollution was associated with decreased cognitive function in older men.[10]

Mortality from diesel soot exposure in 2001 was at least 14,400 out of the German population of 82 million, according to the official report 2352 of the Umweltbundesamt Berlin (Federal Environmental Agency of Germany).

The study of nanoparticles and nanotoxicology is still in its infancy, but the full health effects from nanoparticles produced by all types of diesel is still being uncovered. It is already clear enough, however, that the health detriments of fine particle emissions are severe and pervasive. Although one study found no significant evidence that short term exposure to diesel exhaust results in adverse extra-pulmonary effects, effects that are often correlated with an increase in cardiovascular disease,[12] a 2011 study in The Lancet concluded that traffic exposure is the single most serious preventable trigger of heart attack in the general public, the cause of 7.4% of all attacks.[9] It is impossible to tell how much of this effect is due to the stress of being in traffic and how much is due to exposure to exhaust.[citation needed]

Since the study of the detrimental health effects of nanoparticles (nanotoxicology) is still in its infancy, and the nature and extent of negative health impacts from diesel exhaust continues to be discovered. There is little controversy however that the public health impact of diesels is higher than that of petrol fueled vehicles despite the wide uncertainties.[13]

Variation with engine conditions[edit]

The types and quantities of nanoparticles can vary according to operating temperatures and pressures, presence of an open flame, fundamental fuel type and fuel mixture, and even atmospheric mixtures. As such, the resulting types of nanoparticles from different engine technologies and even different fuels are not necessarily comparable. One study has shown that the volatile component of 95% of diesel nanoparticles is unburned lubricating oil.[14] Long term effects still need to be further clarified, as well as the effects on susceptible groups of people with cardiopulmonary diseases.

Diesel engines can produce black soot (or more specifically diesel particulate matter) from their exhaust. The black smoke consists of carbon compounds that were not combusted, because of local low temperatures where the fuel is not fully atomized. These local low temperatures occur at the cylinder walls, and at the outside of large droplets of fuel. At these areas where it is relatively cold, the mixture is rich (contrary to the overall mixture which is lean). The rich mixture has less air to burn and some of the fuel turns into a carbon deposit. Modern car engines use a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to capture carbon particles and then intermittently burn them using extra fuel injected directly into the filter. This prevents carbon buildup at the expense of wasting a small quantity of fuel.

The full load limit of a diesel engine in normal service is defined by the "black smoke limit", beyond which point the fuel cannot be completely combusted. As the "black smoke limit" is still considerably lean of stoichiometric, it is possible to obtain more power by exceeding it, but the resultant inefficient combustion means that the extra power comes at the price of reduced combustion efficiency, high fuel consumption and dense clouds of smoke. This is only done in specialized applications (such as tractor pulling competitions) where these disadvantages are of little concern.

When starting from cold, the engine's combustion efficiency is reduced because the cold engine block draws heat out of the cylinder in the compression stroke. The result is that fuel is not combusted fully, resulting in blue and white smoke and lower power outputs until the engine has warmed. This is especially the case with indirect injection engines, which are less thermally efficient. With electronic injection, the timing and length of the injection sequence can be altered to compensate for this. Older engines with mechanical injection can have mechanical and hydraulic governor control to alter the timing, and multi-phase electrically controlled glow plugs, that stay on for a period after start-up to ensure clean combustion—the plugs are automatically switched to a lower power to prevent their burning out.

Chemical components[edit]

This is a list of chemical components that have been found in diesel exhaust.

Contaminant Note Particulate extract mass concentration
acetaldehyde IARC Group 2B carcinogens
acrolein IARC Group 3 carcinogens
aniline IARC Group 3 carcinogens
antimony compounds Toxicity similar to arsenic poisoning
arsenic IARC Group 1 Carcinogens, endocrine disruptor
benzene IARC Group 1 Carcinogens
beryllium compounds IARC Group 1 Carcinogens
biphenyl It has mild toxicity.
bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate endocrine disruptor
1,3-Butadiene IARC Group 2A carcinogens
cadmium IARC Group 1 Carcinogens, endocrine disruptor
chlorine Byproduct of Urea injection
chlorobenzene It has "low to moderate" toxicity.
chromium compounds IARC Group 3 carcinogens
cobalt compounds
cresol isomers
cyanide compounds
dibutyl phthalate endocrine disruptor
1,8-dinitropyrene Carcinogen[citation needed]
dioxins and dibenzofurans
formaldehyde IARC Group 1 Carcinogens
inorganic lead endocrine disruptor
manganese compounds
mercury compounds IARC Group 3 carcinogens
methyl ethyl ketone It may cause birth defects.[citation needed]
naphthalene IARC Group 2B carcinogens
nickel IARC Group 2B carcinogens
3-Nitrobenzanthrone One of the strongest carcinogens known 0.6 to 6.6 ppm
4-nitrobiphenyl 2.2 ppm
phenol endocrine disruptor[citation needed]
polycyclic organic matter, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Pyrene 3532–8002 ppm
Benzo(e)pyrene 487–946 ppm
Benzo(a)pyrene IARC Group 1 carcinogen 208–558 ppm
Fluoranthene 3399–7321 ppm
selenium compounds
styrene IARC Group 2B carcinogens
toluene IARC Group 3 carcinogens
xylene isomers and mixtures: o-xylenes, m-xylenes, p-xylenes IARC Group 3 carcinogens


Some problems associated with the exhaust gases (nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides) can be mitigated with further investment and equipment; some diesel cars now have catalytic converters in the exhaust.


Although the US Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued a health standard in January 2001 designed to reduce exposure in underground metal and nonmetal mines, on September 7, 2005, MSHA published a notice in the Federal Register proposing to postpone the effective date from January 2006 until January 2011.

To rapidly reduce particulate matter from heavy-duty diesel engines in California, the California Air Resources Board created the Carl Moyer Program to provide funding for upgrading engines ahead of emissions regulations. In 2008 the California Air Resources Board also implemented the 2008 California Statewide Truck and Bus Rule which requires all heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses, with a few exceptions, that operate in California to either retrofit or replace engines in order to reduce diesel particulate matter.


Remedial measures include:

With emissions standards increasing, diesel engines are having to become more efficient and have less pollutants in their exhaust. As a result, engineers have come up with two separate systems to make the U.S. 2010 emissions criteria. One system is Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) and the other system is Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR).

Both systems are in the exhaust system of diesel engines to promote efficiency . Currently light duty truck must have NOx emissions less than .07 g/mile, and in the U.S. 2010 the proposed NOx emissions must be less than .03 g/mile.

In recent years the United States, Europe, and Japan have become more stringent and are extending the emissions control regulations from on road vehicles to include locomotive, marine, stationary generator applications and farm vehicles.[17]

SCR (selective catalytic reduction) injects a water and urea mix, known as diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), into the exhaust of a diesel engine to change nitrogen oxide into nitrogen and water. SCR can reduce 90% of the NOx in the exhaust system. SCR systems do not need a PM (particulate matter) filter, but when the SCR and PM filters are combined the engine is 3% to 5% more fuel efficient. One disadvantage of the SCR system is the need to refill the DEF tank, which varies with the miles driven, load factors, and the hours used.[18] The SCR system is not as efficient at higher revolutions per minute. SCR is being optimized to have higher efficiency with broader temperatures, be more durable and more precise in its application [17]

EGR (Exhaust gas recirculation) is recirculating exhaust gas from the exhaust manifold of a diesel engine into an EGR valve which is timed with the intake valves to allow some exhaust back into the cylinder for compression and the power stroke. Thus less fuel is used on the power stroke, thereby avoiding engine knock, letting the engine run on a much leaner fuel to air ratio, giving the engine better fuel economy and less gaseous emissions. However, with this system there is more particulate exhaust, which requires a Particulate Matter (PM) filter in the exhaust.[19] EGR needs a pressure differential across the exhaust manifold and intake manifold. This needs a variable geometry turbocharger, which has inlet guide vanes on the turbine to build exhaust backpressure in the exhaust manifold directing exhaust gas to the intake manifold.[19] It needs external piping and a valve that would need more maintenance.

Another way of achieving an EGR-like effect is cam overlap whereby the intake and exhaust valves remain open simultaneously for a period.

In new farm tractor diesel engines John Deere is implementing a 9 liter inline 6 diesel that has:

  • Two turbochargers, the first on the exhaust manifold being variable geometry and containing the EGR system, and the second being a fixed geometry turbocharger. The recirculated exhaust gas and the compressed air from the turbochargers have separate coolers and then the air merges before entering the intake manifold.
  • A SCR system and a PM filter and another oxidation catalyst.

All these systems are controlled by a central engine control unit for the optimized minimum of pollutants released in the exhaust gas.[20]

Other effects[edit]

Experiments in 2013 showed that diesel exhaust impaired bees' ability to detect the scent of oilseed rape flowers.[21]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "IARC: DIESEL ENGINE EXHAUST CARCINOGENIC" (Press release). International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Retrieved June 12, 2012. "June 12, 2012 ‐‐ After a week-long meeting of international experts, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), today classified diesel exhaust as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on enough evidence that exposure is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer" 
  2. ^ Health Concerns Associated with Excessive Idling
  3. ^ Attfield, M. D.; Schleiff, P. L.; Lubin, J. H.; Blair, A.; Stewart, P. A.; Vermeulen, R.; Coble, J. B.; Silverman, D. T. (5 March 2012). "The Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study: A Cohort Mortality Study With Emphasis on Lung Cancer". JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute. doi:10.1093/jnci/djs035. 
  4. ^ Silverman, D. T.; Samanic, C. M., Lubin, J. H., Blair, A. E., Stewart, P. A., Vermeulen, R., Coble, J. B., Rothman, N., Schleiff, P. L., Travis, W. D., Ziegler, R. G., Wacholder, S., Attfield, M. D. (5 March 2012). "The Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study: A Nested Case-Control Study of Lung Cancer and Diesel Exhaust". JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute. doi:10.1093/jnci/djs034. 
  5. ^ Solomon, Gina; Campbell, Todd (January 2001). "No Breathing in the Aisles. Diesel Exhaust Inside School Buses". NRDC.org. Natural Resources Defense Council. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "Clean School Bus". EPA.gov. United States Government. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  7. ^ a b bbc.co.uk - Diesel exhausts do cause cancer, says WHO, 2012-06-12
  8. ^ a b medpagetoday.com - WHO: Diesel Exhaust Causes Lung Cancer, 2012-06-12
  9. ^ a b Nawrot, Perez, Künzli, Munters, Nemery Public health importance of triggers of myocardial infarction: comparative risk assessment The Lancet Volume 377, Issue 9767, Pages 732 - 740, 26 February 2011 http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2962296-9/abstract doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62296-9
    "Taking into account the OR and the prevalences of exposure, the highest PAF was estimated for traffic exposure (7.4%)... "
    "... [O]dds ratios and frequencies of each trigger were used to compute population-attributable fractions (PAFs), which estimate the proportion of cases that could be avoided if a risk factor were removed. PAFs depend not only on the risk factor strength at the individual level but also on its frequency in the community. ... [T]he exposure prevalence for triggers in the relevant control time window ranged from 0.04% for cocaine use to 100% for air pollution. ... Taking into account the OR and the prevalences of exposure, the highest PAF was estimated for traffic exposure (7.4%) ...
  10. ^ a b Power, Weisskopf, Alexeeff, Coull, Spiro, Schwartz Traffic-Related Air Pollution and Cognitive Function in a Cohort of Older Men PMID 21172758 . Full free text: http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info:doi/10.1289/ehp.1002767
  11. ^ Ole Raaschou-Nielsen et al. (July 10, 2013). "Air pollution and lung cancer incidence in 17 European cohorts: prospective analyses from the European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE)". The Lancet Oncology. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70279-1. Retrieved July 10, 2013. "Particulate matter air pollution contributes to lung cancer incidence in Europe." 
  12. ^ http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/isth2005/abstract.asp?id=46528 Exposure to Diesel Nanoparticles Does Not Induce Blood Hypercoagulability in an at-Risk Population (Abstract)
  13. ^ Int Panis, L; Rabl, A; De Nocker, L; Torfs, R (2002). "Diesel or Petrol ? An environmental comparison hampered by uncertainty". Mitteilungen Institut für Verbrennungskraftmaschinen und Thermodynamik, Publisher: Institut für Verbrennungskraftmaschinen und Thermodynamik 81 (1): 48–54. 
  14. ^ On-line measurements of diesel nanoparticle composition and volatility
  15. ^ "EPA Report on diesel emissions" (PDF). EPA. 2002. p. 113. Retrieved 19 August 2013. ]
  16. ^ Lippmann, Morton, ed. (2009). Environmental Toxicants. doi:10.1002/9780470442890. ISBN 9780470442890.  edit
  17. ^ a b Guan, B; Zhan, R; Lin, H; Huang, Z. (2014) Review of state of the art technologies of selective catalytic reduction of NOx from diesel engine exhaust Review Article Applied Thermal Engineering, Volume 66, Issues 1–2, Pages 395-414.
  18. ^ DieselForum.org (2014) About Clean Diesel: What is SCR? http://www.dieselforum.org/about-clean-diesel/what-is-scr-.
  19. ^ a b Bennett, Sean (2004). Medium/Heavy Duty Truck Engines, Fuel & Computerized Management Systems 2nd Edition, ISBN 1401814999.
  20. ^ Technology to Reduce Emissions in Large Engines. http://www.deere.com/en_US/docs/pdfs/emissions/large_engine_technology_final.pdf
  21. ^ http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/131003/srep02779/full/srep02779.html , Diesel exhaust rapidly degrades floral odours used by honeybees, by Robbie D. Girling et al, Scientific Reports 3, article number 2779, received 26 June 2013, accepted 28 August 2013, published 03 October 2013.