As increasing numbers of people turn to alternative fuel vehicles, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is funding a $900,000 research project at UC Davis to study the effects of alternative fuel emissions on the changing climate.
Michael Kleeman, the project’s lead researcher and professor of civil and environmental engineering, will measure how particles emitted from vehicles powered by gas, ethanol, diesel and bio-diesel change in response to changes in the climate. The project will then combine air quality models and weather forecasting models to predict whether air pollution will get worse with climate change.
“The funding from EPA makes this project possible,” Kleeman said in an e-mail interview. “The emissions testing is extremely complicated.… An entire team of professors, postdoctorates and graduate students will be working on the project under the support from EPA.”
Kleeman, will be working with Shuhua Chen, an associate professor of atmospheric science and James Schauer, a leading expert in analysis of airborne-particle chemical composition and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“We need to better understand the science of how climate change will impact air quality,” said Nilofar Glosson, EPA air division program analyst. “UC Davis is fortunate to have an international expert like Dr. Kleeman to help lead the scientific understanding on this topic.”
The researchers will take air samples from exhaust pipes of alternative-fuel cars including gas-electric hybrid cars and plug-in hybrids. Electric cars and fuel cell cars will not be studied since they do not have tailpipe emissions.
“We will test hybrid vehicles in the current study since they do have tailpipe emissions and we are interested in how those will change in response to increased temperature and changes to humidity,” Kleeman said.
Chen said that coupling the air quality model with an atmospheric model for the study can take up to three to four years.
“As we will be doing coupling for the air quality model and the atmospheric model (an online approach), the numerical study that we will conduct in the project will be more accurate than an offline approach,” said Chen in an e-mail interview.
The EPA supports improving air quality for the betterment of not only California but the world in general.
“This grant is a prime example of our effort to support the science that is the foundation for the difficult but important job of improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Glosson said in an e-mail interview.
Kleeman too has optimism for the future of air quality, though improvements in the coming years will require changes to be made by the general population
“I fully believe that California will be able to improve air quality so that we meet the health-based standards for ozone and airborne particles,” Kleeman said. “That will likely require changes to our vehicle fleet including the use of electric cars and hybrids.”
Kleeman said he and his researchers hope to determine if the change in climate will make the job of switching to alternative fuel methods harder than it already is.
“We already know that warmer temperatures encourage ozone formation, and so we will need to control emissions more than would have been necessary in the absence of climate change,” Kleeman said. “Our current project aims to find out if we will pay a similar climate penalty for airborne particle pollution.”
ANGELA RUGGIERO can be reached at email@example.com.