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Characterization of micro- and nano-plastics formed and emitted from biomass burning

EMSL Project ID


Biomass burning has become a significant source of air pollution in the US, especially with the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires not only in the western US but also recently in the eastern part of the US. This phenomenon will become even more important in the future as a result of climate change. Thus, understanding the nature of the pollutants emitted and formed from biomass burning is critical in adopting resilient strategies in our climate change adaptation plan in the future.

The aim of this study is to characterize a pollutant of emerging concern that is emitted from biomass burning, i.e., micro- and nano-plastic particles, MPS and NPs, respectively. This characterization entails determining the concentrations, size distribution, and chemical composition of these particles at varying combustion conditions. At least six biomass burning experiments will be conducted in the controlled biomass combustion system at EMSL, PNNL. Experiments will include three varying biomass-to-plastic mass ratios (i.e., 0:1, 2:1, and 1:0) at an air-to-fuel ratio equal to 25 and at two different combustion temperatures (i.e., 500 and 1000 °C). The morphology (size and mixing state) and elemental composition of individual particles collected on the TEM B-film grids will be analyzed using computer-controlled scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive X-ray (CCSEM/EDX) at EMSL, which will be used to classify particle types and fractions. The Nanoscale Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) and/or Raman Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) are requested as they will be used to detect the chemical composition of MPs/NPs. These techniques are commonly used to identify MPs/NPs polymer types and characteristics. Gas emissions will be analyzed by the thermal desorption quadrupole time-of-flight gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (TD-QTOF-GC-MS).

Results from this work have implications for emissions from burning houses during natural wildfires in addition to human-made open burns and incineration processes of plastic waste.

Project Details

Project type
Exploratory Research
Start Date
End Date


Principal Investigator

Marwa El-Sayed
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University