INFAMOS - a new method for speciated peroxy radical detection

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Chemistry


The international societal response to deteriorating air quality and the changing climate is guided by the predictions of numerical models. These models contain estimates of future emissions of trace gases and aerosols from natural processes and human activities, their dispersal throughout the atmosphere, and their chemical transformations into a wide range of secondary products.

Photo-oxidation in the troposphere is highly complex, being initiated by short lived radical species, in the daytime dominated by the hydroxyl radical, with contributions from chlorine atoms, and at night by either the nitrate radical or ozone. Fast chemical oxidation cycles remove trace species which are harmful to humans and to the wider environment. Many secondary products produced by atmospheric photo-oxidation are also directly harmful, for example ozone, nitrogen dioxide, acids and multifunctional organic molecules, many of which are of low volatility and are able to partition effectively to the condensed phase, creating secondary organic aerosol, with associated impacts on climate and human health. One of the best ways to test the accuracy of a chemical mechanism used in an air quality or climate model is to compare its calculated output for radical species for a given location and time with actual measurements made in the atmosphere. Radicals are ideal for this purpose as their lifetimes are short, and hence are controlled by chemistry rather than by transport.

Two of the simplest radicals in the atmosphere are the hydroperoxy radical, HO2, and the smallest and dominant organic peroxy radical, CH3O2, which are formed directly by the reactions of OH with carbon monoxide and methane. Their reaction with nitric oxide constitutes the only tropospheric in situ source of O3, a respiratory irritant and a greenhouse gas. Despite their importance, neither HO2 nor CH3O2 are measured directly in the atmosphere, with HO2 only being determined indirectly following conversion first to OH after sampling.

This proposal brings together leading expertise from a field measurement group at Leeds and a cavity enhanced optical spectroscopy group at Oxford to tackle this gap. The overarching aim is to develop a novel and direct laser spectroscopic technique called INFAMOS which has the potential to measure the concentrations of HO2 and CH3O2 in the field. An intercomparison of INFAMOS with complementary, but indirect, chemical conversion methods will be carried out in the Leeds HIRAC atmospheric chamber (volume 2250 litres), whose capabilities will also be improved via this proposal. The new technique will also be used to make direct, sensitive measurements of HO2 and CH3O2 in HIRAC to study the kinetics and product yields for several key atmospheric reactions which are poorly quantified, in conjunction with rate theory calculations and box modelling using the Master Chemical Mechanism.

The newly developed technique to measure HO2 or CH3O2 will also have potential benefits in other areas, for example to understand fundamentals of combustion chemistry in the energy sector.

Planned Impact

The results from this project will be communicated to the wider scientific community via publication in high quality journals and presentations at international conferences. Novel state-of-the-art instrumentation will be developed in the project which will help to maintain the impact and international leadership of the UK atmospheric composition community. The investigators are active within the professional societies, for example the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the activities within this project will be publicised via our engagements with them. The research will also be communicated to the wider public through talks in Schools, Café Scientifique and through the media.

The research will impact scientists at Universities and research institutes active in the development of sensitive methods for measurements of radicals in the atmosphere and other reactive media, and numerical modellers who can exploit new data on fundamental chemical processes, or wish to compare with field measured concentrations of radicals. The research will also impact those sectors which rely on accurate representations in models of the fate and impact of emissions (natural and human related) in the atmosphere. These include air quality and climate policy legislators, industry, government advisory bodies (for example the DEFRA Air Quality Expert Group), the transportation and logistics sectors, environment and health authorities (local and regional), and pollution forecasters (for example the Met Office). Better predictions of air quality and subsequent improvements to mitigation strategies will directly benefit the general public through improvements to their quality of life, and is central to NERC strategy.

Beneficiaries also include those in the commercial private sector who will benefit from the newly developed INFAMOS technology, for example in breath analysis, combustion systems (engines) and plasmas.

The research has the potential to contribute to the nation's health and quality of life through better mitigation strategies to combat climate change and deteriorating air quality. These strategies are informed by the predictions of models, and validation of chemical mechanisms used in these models will raise confidence in the accuracy of these predictions.

The two PDRAs in this project will benefit from using a wide range of instrumentation (lasers, optics, vacuum and gas handling, data acquisition, electronics) and modelling tools, and will have the opportunity to enhance their presentation skills through communicating their research widely, both locally and to the international research community.


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Description The capacity of our atmosphere to cleanse itself of pollutants is controlled by the chemical reactions of trace species know as radicals. Key radicals in the daytime chemistry include the hydroxyl and peroxy radicals. During this award we have developed methods which allow scientists to make more accurate measurements of the speed of the chemical reaction involving peroxy species and to determine the absolute concentrations of the most important of these radicals, namely peroxy (HO2) and methyl peroxy (CH3O2). These parameter are key inputs in advanced atmospheric models.
Exploitation Route The techniques and parameters may be taken forward in detailed studies of low temperature oxidation chemistry e.g. for plasma chemistry and low temperature combustion.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment

Description Standard research Grant
Amount £696,554 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P026621/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 07/2020