A fogging scrubber to treat diesel exhaust: field testing and a mechanistic model

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Virginia Tech

Diesel particulate matter (DPM) is comprised of two main fractions, organic carbon (OC) and elemental carbon (EC). DPM is the solid portion of diesel exhaust and particles are submicron in size typically ranging from 10 to 1000 nanometers. DPM is a known respirable hazard and occupational exposure can lead to negative health effects. These effects can range from irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat to more serious respirable and cardiovascular diseases. Due to the use of diesel powered equipment in confined airways, underground mine environments present an increased risk and underground mine works can be chronically overexposed. Current engineering controls used to mitigate DPM exposure include cleaner fuels, regular engine maintenance, ventilation controls, and enclosed cabs on vehicles. However even with these controls in place, workers can still be overexposed.

The author's research group has previously tested the efficacy of a novel, fog-based scrubber treatment for removing DPM from the air, in a laboratory setting. It was found that the fog treatment improved DPM removal by approximately 45% by number density compared to the control trial (fog off). The previous work stated thermal coagulation between the fog drops and the DPM, followed by gravitational settling of the drops to be the likely mechanisms responsible for the DPM removal. The current work investigated the efficacy of the fog treatment on a larger scale in an underground mine environment, by using a fogging scrubber to treat the entire exhaust stream from a diesel vehicle. A total of 11 field tests were conducted.

Based on measurements of nanoparticle number concentration at the inlet and outlet of the scrubber, the fog treatment in the current work showed an average improvement in total DPM removal of approximately 55% compared to the control (fog off) condition. It was found that the treatment more effectively removed smaller DPM sizes, removing an average of 84 to 89% of the DPM in the 11.5, 15.4, and 20.5 nanometer size bins and removing 24 to 30% of the DPM in the 88.6, 115.5, and 154 nanometer size bins. These observations are consistent with expectations since the rate of coagulation between the DPM and fog drops should be greater for smaller diameters.

Further analysis of the DPM removal was aided by the development of a mechanistic model of the fogging scrubber. The model uses the inlet data from the experimental tests as input parameters, and it outputs the outlet concentration of DPM for comparison to the experimental outlet data. Results provided support for the notion that DPM removal relies on DPM-fog drop coagulation, and subsequent removal of the DPM-laden drops as opposed to DPM removal by diffusion or inertial impaction of DPM directly to the walls. The model results suggest that inertial impaction of these drops to the scrubber walls is likely much more important than gravitational settling. Moreover, the ribbed geometry of the tubing used for the scrubber apparatus tested here appears to greatly enhance inertial impaction (via enhancement of depositional velocity) versus smooth-walled tubing. This is consistent with previous research that shows particle deposition in tubes with internally ribbed or wavy structures is enhanced compared to deposition in tubes with smooth walls.

Diesel Particulate Matter, DPM, fog, diesel exhaust, scrubber, underground mining, occupational health, mine ventilation