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Your Environment. Your Health.

Black Carbon from Kerosene Lamps Contributes to Climate Change

Nicholas L. Lam
University of California, Berkeley
NIEHS Grant R01ES010178

A study funded in part by NIEHS shows that the kerosene-fueled wick lamps commonly used in developing-country households are a significant source of black carbon emissions. Replacing these lamps with cleaner light sources would benefit people’s health and the planet.

Black carbon contributes to global warming because it absorbs light and heats the atmosphere. The researchers conducted both field and laboratory testing of kerosene wick lamps, finding that 7 to 9 percent of the kerosene consumed is converted to carbonaceous particulate matter that is nearly pure black carbon. From these emission factors, they estimated that kerosene lighting emits 270,000 metric tons of black carbon per year, a 20-fold increase from previous estimates.

Radiative forcing is a common measure of climate impact that describes the change in Earth’s net energy balance brought on by a constituent(s) at the top of the atmosphere. The researchers estimated the aerosol climate forcing on atmosphere and snow from kerosene wick lamps at 22 mW/m2 (8, 48 mW/m2 ), which is 7 percent of black carbon forcing from all other energy-related sources.


Citation: Lam NL, Chen Y, Weyant C, Venkataraman C, Sadavarte P, Johnson MA, Smith KR, Brem BT, Arineitwe J, Ellis JE, Bond TC. 2012. Household light makes global heat: high black carbon emissions from kerosene wick lamps. Environ Sci Technol 46(24):13531-13538.

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