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Biofuels may eliminate 90% of black smoke emissions from cars

The use of biofuels could lead to a dramatic reduction of over 90% in black smoke emissions from vehicles, according to a breakthrough study from the University of Malaga.

The research, which was a collaboration with the Future Power Systems Group of the University of Birmingham, represents a significant discovery in the field of vehicle emissions

Focus of the research 

The investigative efforts at the University of Malaga were led by Francisco Javier Martos, a professor in the School of Industrial Engineering. 

The researchers analyzed the soot nanoparticles produced by engines using various biofuels. This included bio-alcohols such as butanol, pentanol, and cyclopentanol, as well as bio-ketones like cyclopentanone. 

The team used High-Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy (HR-TEM), which was conducted at the Central Research Support Services of the UMA (SCAI).

Potential game-changer 

The core of the study revolved around the blending of oxygenated biofuels with diesel. Specifically, the team focused on a 20-percent volume concentration of this blend. 

This particular blend was found to significantly reduce the production of soot – the black smoke commonly emitted by cars. Soot is known for its detrimental effects on both the environment and public health.

Sustainable production 

A key aspect of these biofuels is their sustainable production process. They can be derived from low carbon biomass residues, such as waste oils, algae, and agricultural or forestry residues. This not only makes them environmentally friendly, but also a potential game-changer in the automotive fuel industry.

Professor Martos emphasized the efficiency and practicality of these biofuels: “Our research shows that the biofuels studied, which we obtained in the laboratory, apart from producing very little soot, behave in the engine similarly to the fuel of any gas station, which means that there would be no need to make changes for it to work normally.”

Public health implications 

The implications of the research are far-reaching. Soot particles, as explained by Professor Martos, pose a serious threat to the environment and public health. 

“Soot particles emitted by engines are expelled into the environment and remain suspended in the air, affecting the climate, since they increase the greenhouse effect, and public health, because they do not settle to the ground, so they are very likely to be inhaled by living beings,” said Professor Martos.

By reducing soot emissions, the use of biofuels could significantly mitigate these public health risks.

The study not only highlights a potential path to reducing the environmental footprint of thermal engines but also “opens the door to the use of non-petroleum fuels that could reduce the emission of pollutants in vehicles.”

The experts behind the research are already working towards the commercialization of these biofuels, having established agreements with several brands.

Black smoke emissions

Black smoke emissions from cars, typically diesel vehicles, are a significant environmental concern. This smoke is primarily composed of carbon particles resulting from incomplete combustion of diesel fuel. 

Contributing factors

The reasons for such emissions can be varied, including a clogged air filter, malfunctioning injectors, or problems in the engine’s internal components.

One key factor contributing to black smoke is an imbalance in the fuel-to-air ratio, where too much fuel and not enough air leads to incomplete fuel burning. This can occur when air filters are blocked, reducing the amount of air entering the engine, or when fuel injectors deliver too much fuel. 

Additionally, issues with the turbocharger, responsible for supplying extra air to the engine, can also lead to black smoke.

Potential impacts

The black smoke is not only a sign of fuel inefficiency, but it also has environmental and health implications. It contains a variety of harmful pollutants, including particulate matter, which can have severe effects on human health, particularly on the respiratory system. Furthermore, these emissions contribute to air pollution and environmental degradation.


To mitigate these issues, regular vehicle maintenance is crucial. This includes checking and replacing air filters, ensuring injectors are functioning correctly, and resolving any turbocharger issues.

Furthermore, advancements in engine technology and stricter emission standards have led to cleaner and more efficient diesel engines, which help reduce the occurrence of black smoke emissions.

The study is published in the journal Fuel.

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