Kerosene From Lamps Of A Billion People A Big Source Of Black Carbon
    By News Staff | December 2nd 2012 05:55 PM | 10 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Kerosene is the the primary source of light for more than a billion people in developing nations and it is churning out black carbon previously overlooked in greenhouse gas estimates, says a new study. 

    Results from field and lab tests found that 7 to 9 percent of the kerosene in wick lamps — used for light in 250-300 million households without electricity — is converted to black carbon when burned. In comparison, only half of 1 percent of the emissions from burning wood is converted to black carbon.

    Factoring in the new study results leads to a 20X increase in estimates of black carbon emissions from kerosene-fueled lighting. The previous estimates come from established databases used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others. One kilogram of black carbon, a byproduct of incomplete combustion and an important greenhouse gas, produces as much warming in a month as 700 kilograms of carbon dioxide does over 100 years, the authors said. 

    "The orange glow in flames comes from black carbon, so the brighter the glow, the more black carbon is being made," said study principal investigator Tami Bond, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "If it's not burned away, it goes into the atmosphere."

    The findings, published online this month in the journal Environmental Science&Technology, are coming out at the same time that the United Nations Climate Change Conference kicks off in Doha, Qatar. While officials from around the world are seeking effective policies and guidelines for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the study authors note that the simple act of replacing kerosene lamps could pack a wallop toward that effort.

    Smoke emitted by simple wick lamps, similar to the one shown above, was found to be a significant but previously overlooked source of global black carbon. Credit: Ajay Pillarisetti

    "There are no magic bullets that will solve all of our greenhouse gas problems, but replacing kerosene lamps is low-hanging fruit, and we don't have many examples of that in the climate world," said study co-author Kirk Smith, professor at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and director of the Global Health and Environment Program. "There are many inexpensive, cleaner alternatives to kerosene lamps that are available now, and few if any barriers to switching to them."

    Smith pointed to lanterns with light-emitting diodes that can be powered by solar cells or even advanced cookstoves that generate electricity from the heat produced. Such technology, said Smith, is already available in developing countries.

    The researchers used kerosene lamps purchased in Uganda and Peru and conducted field experiments there to measure the emissions. They repeated the tests in the lab using wicks of varying heights and materials, and kerosene purchased in the United States as well as in Uganda.

    The study authors noted that converting to cleaner light sources would not only benefit the planet, it would help improve people's health. A recent epidemiological study in Nepal led by Smith and other researchers at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, for example, found that women who reported use of kerosene lamps in the home had 9.4 times the rate of tuberculosis compared with those who did not use such lamps.

    "Getting rid of kerosene lamps may seem like a small, inconsequential step to take, but when considering the collective impact of hundreds of millions of households, it's a simple move that affects the planet," said study lead author Nicholas Lam, a UC Berkeley graduate student in environmental health sciences.


    The problem isn't kerosene lamps. The problem is way too many people. It's time to cull the human herd.

    As I was reading this I was thinking the exact same thing even before I read your comment.

    Who determines the people that get culled?  Are you two willing to be exterminated?
    Thanks Hank for this comment, I don't always agree with your pieces but this needed to be said.

    Of course not.
    Never is a long time.
    This article reminds us once again how foolish we can be when we think we are smart!
    The most important lesson in science is humility. We need to teach the scientific method as taught us by history. Instead we teach a boring set of facts and demand memorization without explaining how those "facts" were found and how tenuous our grasp of "reality" really is. We teach science as past generations taught religion, with the same result: hero worship without understanding! ....our religion educators learned the foolishness of rote teaching, when will our science teachers learn this?
    When that time comes, we won't be so easily fooled by today's witch doctors and hunters, alternately scaring us with voodoo science and then burning the accused witches at the stake!
    Yes, climates change, and have done so long before man industrialized. And yes, very large numbers of ANY researchers can have a small, but not necessary inconsequential impact on an environment. But the real threat is the next world war, likely to follow the next Great Depression which we seem determined to slide into! That new war, besides being far more deadly, will generate more CO2 than anything the regulators ever hoped to regulate!
    Get real... Understand how little we really understand, and we can then not be so easily swayed by hype.

     Instead we teach a boring set of facts and demand memorization without explaining how those "facts" were found and how tenuous our grasp of "reality" really is. We teach science as past generations taught religion...
    That complaint, although valid, is hundreds of years old. The truth is that good teaching has always used a discovery method and emphasized concepts and thinking. But it has also addressed the "language aspects" or the basics, which do have to be remembered. 
    I disagree it's even a valid complaint, since that is precisely the way we have taught since the 1920s and it's why American high school students are criticized on standardized test performance - basically, American kids have everyone telling them how dumb they are no matter how well they are taught what they are taught..  American kids can't identify Lichtenstein precisely because they are not taught facts and that hurts us on tests where that matters but obviously America leads the world in science - because what American kids learn how to do is use a map.
    HA! ...spelling corrector gaff: "...very large numbers of ANY *creatures*..." not "researchers", though I admit the old adage that "too many cooks spoils the broth" probably does apply to "researchers" also! :-)

    The problem is that all the people using the kerosene lamps are poot people who make the lamps out of cloth and tin can they can find. any alternative, UNLESS ITS LITERALLY FREE will not be adopted. cheap and inexpensive is not free. Being poor has its disadvantages.