2010 March 18: Wikipedia: Black carbon

2010 March 18: Wikipedia: Black carbon

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Bioenergy > Issues > Development > Household energy use > Indoor air pollution > Black carbon

Black carbon is the small particulate or soot that is emitted when burning biomass, coal or diesel. Black carbon affects individuals on a local level because it is harmful to breath; this is most concerning in areas where people cook on open fire stoves. Black carbon is also a significant contributor to global warming.




Climate change

  • Black carbon accounts for about 25% of global warming.
    • The dark cloud caused by black carbon absorbs energy from the sun that would normally be reflected by light colored clouds.
    • When black carbon settles on glaciers or sea ice, it darkens the normally reflective surface and speeds melting.

Health effects

Many households in developing countries burn biomass such as wood or dung for cooking. This can be very harmful to the health of these families, especially the women and young girls who do most of the cooking.


Although black carbon settles out of the air quickly (days to several weeks) it is not a local or regional problem. The air from China takes only 3-5 days to travel to the United States, bringing with it large amounts of this and other air pollutants.
Diesel vehicles

  • The US is the biggest per capita emitter of black carbon, due to the number of diesel vehicles used.

Forest or agricultural land burning Burning forests and agricultural residues creates a large amount of black carbon. In particular the burning that occurs in the Amazon forest migrates over the antarctic increasing melting.
Open flame cookstoves


  • ‘Black Carbon’ Crackdown Offers Fast-Action Solution to Slow Warming, 17 March 2010 blog post by Stacy Feldman: "Lawmakers, scientists and advocates in the U.S. intensified calls Tuesday to immediately cut emissions from climate-warming soot — also known as black carbon — as deadlock continues in Congress over far more complicated regulation of carbon dioxide."
    • "Black carbon causes up to 600 times the warming of CO2 and lasts just a few weeks in the atmosphere, whereas CO2 lingers for a century or more. Because of black carbon’s short lifespan, the impact of efforts to knock out the potent, heat-absorbing particle would be near immediate."
    • "The U.S. contributes 5.5 percent to that global total, estimates say, mainly from diesel engines. Advocates argue the nation could easily shrink that number down to almost nothing, starting now. The filters to trap up to 90 percent of diesel pollution, for instance, are ready to go."[1]


Note: Much of the information on this page came from notes taken at a lecture called U.S.-China Cooperation: The Co-benefits of Reducing Black Carbon with speakers Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan a professor at UCSD, John Guy from the EPA and Dennise Clare from IGSD.

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