An important aspect of providing methods and tools for conducting efficient and sustainable biorefinery—such as Bio4Energy does—is to keep the environmental and health impacts of biomass-based technologies in check.
One such example is emissions from biomass combustion. To give a snapshot of the latest in that line of research, scientists at Umeå University have taken on the organisation of the recurrent International Congress on Combustion By-products and their Health Effects, to be held at Umeå 14-17 June 2015.
The scope of the congress traditionally includes both direct biomass burning and combustion as a means to turn biomass into biofuel for automotive transport, and highlights this year include prevention of the formation and emission of halogenated persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and secondary emissons of intermediate chemicals.
"Here we are talking about by-products of combustion and environmental effects and health effects of these by-products. They can be different types of compounds and structures. So there is quite some research on soot and particles, some on ash and metals and organic environmental pollutants. So this is quite a broad conference [content wise] in that it discusses a range of aspects of combustion and [its] environmental and health effects".
However, to get some idea of which of these possible environmental and health hazards will be in focus, looking at presentation topics of plenary and keynote speakers was usually a good idea, she said. The prevention of emissions, and thus the formation, of halogenated persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in biomass combustion processes will be discussed by none other than Bogdan Dlugogorski, of Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, who is an authority on the subject.
All the while being organic compounds, POPs are hazardous chemicals resistant to breakdown and which tend to accumulate and persist in humans, animals and in nature. They are commonly found in past or presently used pesticides, solvents, pharmaceuticals or industrial chemicals. Most of the POPs are man-made.
Moreover, John Dyke of the University of South Hampton in the UK will speak on reactive intermediate chemicals and their photoionisation. Professor Dyke studies intermediates by using lasers, synchtron radiation and laboratory discharge to assess chemical reactivity the combustion gas-phase.
Many other interventions could be highlighted such as that by Åke Bergman, a world-leading Swedish expert on the environmental and health effects of using flame retardants and brominated environmental pollutants in various applications and goods such as furniture. The Stockholm University professor and director of the Swetox Swedish national initiative to map chemical impacts will be speaking on the "past, present and future" use of flame retardants.
In addition, several Bio4Energy researchers are lined up to speak or present research posters.
"I think people should attend the conference. About 70 people have already registered and we are trying to make the conference a worthwhile event. [We have set out to give people the impression of having attended] a good conference with good presentations and opportunities for networking and social activities", said Jansson, who is an associate professor at UmU and leads a research group on the Bio4Energy Environmental Platform.
The venue for PIC 2015 is in downtown Umeå, a medium-sized city in northern Sweden and European Cultural Capital in 2014, at the elegant Scandic Plaza hotel right on the Umeå River.
Now in its 14th edition, PIC is held every two years with the goal of providing an international forum for discussions on the origin, fate and health effects of combustion. In this context combustion is considered in a wide sense and includes all forms of thermal treatment of fuel materials and hazardous substances. The research field has gained "significant relevance", according to the conference website, because of the "increasing need for mechanistic, diagnostic and analytical answers to complex problems concerning air toxic exposure". The main theme for PIC 2015 has thus been named the 'Origin, fate and health effects of combustion-related air pollutants in the coming era of bio-based energy sources'.
During the conference, awards will be granted for best oral and poster presentations. The winner of a prestigious Adel Sarofim Award will also be announced.