From: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Published September 15, 2017 01:54 PM

New Method for Identifying Carbon Compounds Derived from Fossil Fuels

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a laboratory instrument that can measure how much of the carbon in many carbon-containing materials was derived from fossil fuels. This will open the way for new methods in the biofuels and bioplastics industries, in scientific research, and environmental monitoring. Among other things, it will allow scientists to measure how much of the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere came from burning fossil fuels, and to estimate fossil fuel emissions in an area as small as a city or as large as a continent.

This is possible because carbon atoms occur in heavy and light forms, or isotopes, and measuring the relative amounts of each can reveal the source of the carbon. Using carbon isotopes in this way is not a new idea, but it requires extremely precise—and expensive—measurements. The new instrument, developed by NIST chemists Adam Fleisher and David Long and based on a technology called cavity ringdown spectroscopy (CRDS), promises to dramatically reduce the cost of those measurements. They described the instrument’s performance in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

Continue reading at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Image: Carbon atoms occur in heavy and light forms, or isotopes, and measuring the relative amounts of each can reveal the source of the carbon. Oxygen atoms are represented in gray and carbon isotopes are in orange and green. Credit: Kelly Irvine / NIST

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