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06-04-2015

Clarkson University Researchers Awarded NYSERDA Contracts to Research Air Quality in New York State

Three Clarkson University professors have been awarded contracts by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) to support their research on air quality in New York State.

A Clarkson University team collects outdoor air samples.Prof. Philip Hopke has been awarded a three-year study of air quality and community health in collaboration with the University of Rochester Medical Center. Hopke is also working with Prof. Tom Holsen to examine concentrations of atmospheric ammonia in four locations around New York state. Asst. Prof. Shunsuke Nakao, in conjunction with Hopke, will be studying the transformation of wood smoke in the atmosphere under realistic winter conditions.

“In my case, we will be looking at changes that have occurred over the past 15 years, such as closing coal-fired power plants in Ontario and their impacts on air quality and health in Rochester,” says Hopke. The Bayard D. Clarkson Distinguished Professor's extensive expertise includes research in air quality and energy technology.

Rochester is the focus of this air quality study because the University of Rochester/Strong Memorial Medical Center has good data on connections between air quality and human health. That area of the state also is of interest because a variety of upwind energy sources have made major changes in the past few years, Hopke explains. A power plant in Ontario along the northern shore of Lake Erie that had been the largest source of sulfur dioxide in North America shut down last year, and a number of coal-powered plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and northern Kentucky have either installed pollution control devices or shut down.

“All of these emission reductions should have changed airborne particulate matter around Rochester,” he says. “We have collected a lot of data there starting in late 2001, so now we have the opportunity to look at trends and see if these changes led to particle reduction or other changes in air quality. We'll compare that information with health studies and see if there are connections.”

The study will begin in July.

Holsen, the Jean S. Newell Distinguished Professor of Engineering, will be leading a project to measure ambient gaseous ammonia in the air. Although ammonia can be difficult to measure, it's important to do so because it can create air pollution, and be dangerous to human health and to the environment.

“Ammonia's primary sources in New York State are from dairy farms and fertilizers,” Holsen explains. “Once applied as fertilizer, ammonia can be quite volatile. It gets into atmosphere and reacts with acids to make particles that are unhealthy to breathe. It also can grow plants where we don't want them, resulting in excessive algae growth in rivers and lakes.”

Holsen’s project will include monitoring over one year and a summer and will collaborate with another project funded by NYSERDA with SUNY Albany and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) that is looking at a broader range of reactive nitrogen species.

Holsen, who has been studying pollutants in the atmosphere for 25 years, says air quality in the U.S. has improved significantly in that time. Studies such as this one on ambient gaseous ammonia are critical to developing appropriate state implementation plans under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, he notes.

He's working with Eric Edgerton of Atmospheric Research and Analysis Inc. (ARA), who is making similar ammonia measurements in the southern U.S. and will help analyze data.

“For now we'll be getting the contracts and equipment in place, and then will start taking samples next spring,” Holsen says.

Asst. Prof. Shunsuke Nakao joined Clarkson’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering last fall and this project on the transformation of wood smoke in the atmosphere will help him launch his studies of cold weather atmospheric chemistry. Potsdam is an ideal location to study winter-time reactions in the atmosphere given the abundant sunlight and cold temperatures.

In this study, smoke will be generated by a wood stove and directed into a Teflon smog chamber where it can be artificially aged at real world temperatures. This work will provide some of the first low temperature studies on particle transformations and formation.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Three Clarkson University professors have been awarded contracts by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) to support their research on air quality in New York State. Above, a Clarkson team collects outdoor air samples.

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/hopke-vt.jpg .]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or aharrison@clarkson.edu.]

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