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An increasing role for solvent emissions and implications for future measurements of Volatile Organic Compounds

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Journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences
DateAccepted/In press - 22 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a broad class of air pollutants which act as precursors to tropospheric ozone and secondary organic aerosols. Total UK emissions of anthropogenic VOCs peaked in 1990 at 2,840 kt yr-1 and then declined to ~ 810 kt yr-1 in 2017 with large reductions in road transport and fugitive fuel emissions. The atmospheric concentrations of many nonmethane hydrocarbons in the UK have been observed to fall over this period in broadly similar proportions. The relative contribution to emissions from solvents and industrial processes is estimated to have increased from ~35% in 1990 to ~63% in 2017. In 1992, UK national monitoring quantified the 19 of the 20 most abundant individual anthropogenic VOCs emitted (all were non-methane hydrocarbons), but by 2017 monitoring captured only 13 out of the top 20 emitted VOCs. Ethanol is now estimated to be the most important VOC emitted by mass (in 2017 ~136 kt yr-1, ~16.8% of total emissions) followed by n-butane (52.4 kt yr-1) and methanol (33.2 kt yr-1). Alcohols have grown in significance representing ~ 10% of emissions in 1990 rising to ~30% in 2017. The increased role of solvent emissions should now be reflected in European monitoring strategies to verify total VOC emission reduction obligations in the National Emissions Ceiling Directive. Adding ethanol, methanol, formaldehyde, acetone, 2-butanone and 2-propanol to existing non-methane hydrocarbon measurements would provide full coverage of the 20 most significant VOCs emitted on an annual mass basis.

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