Articles | Volume 5, issue 5
Atmos. Meas. Tech., 5, 1031–1043, 2012
Atmos. Meas. Tech., 5, 1031–1043, 2012

Research article 11 May 2012

Research article | 11 May 2012

Sensitivity of the Single Particle Soot Photometer to different black carbon types

M. Laborde, P. Mertes, P. Zieger, J. Dommen, U. Baltensperger, and M. Gysel M. Laborde et al.
  • Laboratory of Atmospheric Chemistry, Paul Scherrer Institute, PSI, 5232 Villigen, Switzerland

Abstract. Black carbon (BC) is now mainly of anthropogenic origin. It is the dominant light absorbing component of atmospheric aerosols, playing an important role in the earth's radiative balance and therefore relevant to climate change studies. In addition, BC is known to be harmful to human beings making it relevant to policy makers. Nevertheless, the measurement of BC remains biased by the instrument-based definition of BC. The Single Particle Soot Photometer (SP2), allows the measurement of the refractory BC (rBC) mass of individual particles using laser-induced incandescence. However, the SP2 needs an empirical calibration to retrieve the rBC mass from the incandescence signal and the sensitivity of the SP2 differs between different BC types. Ideally, for atmospheric studies, the SP2 should be calibrated using ambient particles containing a known mass of ambient rBC. However, such "ambient BC" calibration particles cannot easily be obtained and thus commercially available BC particles are commonly used for SP2 calibration instead. In this study we tested the sensitivity of the SP2 to different BC types in order to characterize the potential error introduced by using non-ambient BC for calibration. The sensitivity of the SP2 was determined, using an aerosol particle mass analyzer, for rBC from thermodenuded diesel exhaust, wood burning exhaust and ambient particles as well as for commercially available products: Aquadag® and fullerene soot.

Thermodenuded, fresh diesel exhaust has been found to be ideal for SP2 calibration for two reasons. First, the small amount of non-BC matter upon emission reduces the risk of bias due to incomplete removal of non-BC matter and second, it is considered to represent atmospheric rBC in urban locations where diesel exhaust is the main source of BC. The SP2 was found to be up to 16% less sensitive to rBC from thermodenuded ambient particles (≤15 fg) than rBC from diesel exhaust, however, at least part of this difference can be explained by incomplete removal of non-refractory components in the thermodenuder. The amount of remaining non-refractory matter was estimated to be below 30% by mass, according to a comparison of the scattering cross sections of the whole particles with that of the pure BC cores. The SP2 sensitivity to rBC from wood burning exhaust agrees with the SP2 sensitivity to rBC from diesel exhaust within an error of less than 14% (≤40 fg).

If, due to experimental restrictions, diesel exhaust cannot be used, untreated fullerene soot was found to give an SP2 calibration curve similar to diesel exhaust and ambient rBC (within ±10% for a rBC mass ≤15 fg) and is therefore recommended although two different batches differed by ~14% between themselves. In addition, the SP2 was found to be up to 40% more sensitive to Aquadag® than to diesel exhaust rBC. Therefore Aquadag® cannot be recommended for atmospheric application without accounting for the sensitivity difference. These findings for fullerene soot and Aquadag® confirm results from previous literature.