Articles | Volume 6, issue 7
Research article
29 Jul 2013
Research article |  | 29 Jul 2013

Performance of diethylene glycol-based particle counters in the sub-3 nm size range

D. Wimmer, K. Lehtipalo, A. Franchin, J. Kangasluoma, F. Kreissl, A. Kürten, A. Kupc, A. Metzger, J. Mikkilä, T. Petäjä, F. Riccobono, J. Vanhanen, M. Kulmala, and J. Curtius

Abstract. When studying new particle formation, the uncertainty in determining the "true" nucleation rate is considerably reduced when using condensation particle counters (CPCs) capable of measuring concentrations of aerosol particles at sizes close to or even at the critical cluster size (1–2 nm). Recently, CPCs able to reliably detect particles below 2 nm in size and even close to 1 nm became available. Using these instruments, the corrections needed for calculating nucleation rates are substantially reduced compared to scaling the observed formation rate to the nucleation rate at the critical cluster size. However, this improved instrumentation requires a careful characterization of their cut-off size and the shape of the detection efficiency curve because relatively small shifts in the cut-off size can translate into larger relative errors when measuring particles close to the cut-off size.

Here we describe the development of two continuous-flow CPCs using diethylene glycol (DEG) as the working fluid. The design is based on two TSI 3776 counters. Several sets of measurements to characterize their performance at different temperature settings were carried out. Furthermore, two mixing-type particle size magnifiers (PSM) A09 from Airmodus were characterized in parallel. One PSM was operated at the highest mixing ratio (1 L min−1 saturator flow), and the other was operated in a scanning mode, where the mixing ratios are changed periodically, resulting in a range of cut-off sizes. The mixing ratios are determined by varying the saturator flow, where the aerosol flow stays constant at 2.5 L min−1. Different test aerosols were generated using a nano-differential mobility analyser (nano-DMA) or a high-resolution DMA, to obtain detection efficiency curves for all four CPCs. One calibration setup included a high-resolution mass spectrometer (APi-TOF) for the determination of the chemical composition of the generated clusters. The lowest cut-off sizes were achieved with negatively charged ammonium sulfate clusters, resulting in cut-offs of 1.4 nm for the laminar flow CPCs and 1.2 and 1.1 nm for the PSMs. A comparison of one of the laminar-flow CPCs and one of the PSMs measuring ambient and laboratory air showed good agreement between the instruments.