Interference from alkenes in chemiluminescent NOx measurements

Mohammed S. Alam*, Leigh R. Crilley, James D. Lee, Louisa J. Kramer, Christian Pfrang, Mónica Vázquez-Moreno, Milagros Ródenas, Amalia Muñoz, William J. Bloss

*Corresponding author for this work

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Nitrogen oxides (NOx=NO + NO2) are critical intermediates in atmospheric chemistry and air pollution. NOx levels control the cycling and hence abundance of the primary atmospheric oxidants OH and NO3 and regulate the ozone production which results from the degradation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. They are also atmospheric pollutants, and NO2 is commonly included in air quality objectives and regulations. NOx levels also affect the production of the nitrate component of secondary aerosol particles and other pollutants, such as the lachrymator peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN). The accurate measurement of NO and NO2 is therefore crucial for air quality monitoring and understanding atmospheric composition. The most commonly used approach for the measurement of NO is the chemiluminescent detection of electronically excited NO2 (NO2) formed from the NO + O3 reaction within the NOx analyser. Alkenes, ubiquitous in the atmosphere from biogenic and anthropogenic sources, also react with ozone to produce chemiluminescence and thus may contribute to the measured NOx signal. Their ozonolysis reaction may also be sufficiently rapid that their abundance in conventional instrument background cycles, which also utilises the reaction with ozone, differs from that in the measurement cycle such that the background subtraction is incomplete, and an interference effect results. This interference has been noted previously, and indeed, the effect has been used to measure both alkenes and ozone in the atmosphere. Here we report the results of a systematic investigation of the response of a selection of commercial NOx monitors to a series of alkenes. These NOx monitors range from systems used for routine air quality monitoring to atmospheric research instrumentation. The species-investigated range was from short-chain alkenes, such as ethene, to the biogenic monoterpenes. Experiments were performed in the European PHOtoREactor (EUPHORE) to ensure common calibration and samples for the monitors and to unequivocally confirm the alkene levels present (via Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy - FTIR). The instrument interference responses ranged from negligible levels up to 11 %, depending upon the alkene present and conditions used (e.g. the presence of co-reactants and differing humidity). Such interferences may be of substantial importance for the interpretation of ambient NOx data, particularly for high VOC, low NOx environments such as forests or indoor environments where alkene abundance from personal care and cleaning products may be significant.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5977-5991
Number of pages15
JournalAtmospheric Measurement Techniques
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support. This work was funded in part through the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) project “ICOZA: Integrated Chemistry of Ozone in the Atmosphere” (grant no. NE/ K012169/1) and by the EUROCHAMP-2 Transnational access project “NOxINT: NOx analyser interference in chemically complex mixtures” (grant no. E2-2010-05-26-0033). Part of this work has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme through the EUROCHAMP-2020 Infrastructure Activity (grant no. 730997). CEAM is partly supported by the IMAGINA-Prometeo project (grant no. PROME-TEO2019/110) and by Generalitat Valenciana.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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