Tip Sheets

Can climate solutions and pollution management coexist?

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

The Biden administration has tightened limits on soot and fine particle emissions. The move comes over the objections of industry groups who worry it will stifle innovation, while also making it harder to produce the electric vehicles and renewable energy that are a key part of the president’s climate agenda.

Greeshma Gadikota

Assistant Professor and Croll Sesquicentennial Fellow in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Greeshma Gadikota directs the Sustainable Energy and Resource Recovery Group at Cornell University’s College of Engineering and works to reduce emissions in manufacturing, including decarbonizing concrete and capturing emissions from iron, steel and aluminum manufacturing. Gadikota says the stricter pollution standards will have implications for manufacturing and much needed climate solutions — including mining activities needed for the renewable energy supply chain.

Gadikota says:

“The motivation to rapidly transition to renewable energy, including wind and solar, and energy storage technologies, calls for a significant increase in mining activities. Natural ores and minerals are mined, crushed, ground, and processed at the scale of several gigatons to meet the rising demand for these energy critical metals. In addition to advancing innovation for decarbonizing the supply chain of energy critical metals, mining industries will now need to account for fine particle emissions in the interest of responsible innovation for a sustainable climate future.

“Greenhouse gas removal solutions such as enhanced rock weathering rely on the use of ‘rock dust’ or very fine magnesium or calcium silicate minerals and rocks to remove carbon dioxide. The stricter standards put forward by the EPA for air quality will now motivate advances in creating new knowledge on the fate and transport of these fine siliceous particles in the natural environment as well as in humans.

“These stricter standards will now spur a lot of discussion on how these additional monitoring and management requirements will increase costs for implementing climate solutions, and increase the responsibilities that companies need to take on for responsible innovation.”

Max Zhang

Professor of engineering and faculty director at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability

Max Zhang is a sustainable energy systems expert who studies the effects of pollutants on air quality. He says that in addition to increasing pressure on industry to reduce pollution, the new standards will shine a spotlight on “non-soot” related emissions in the transportation sector, such as from tire wear and road dust.

Zhang says:

“The proposed air quality rule for soot adds pressure on controlling ‘non-soot’ emissions.

“Soot, which is produced from incomplete combustion of carbonaceous materials (fossil fuels, biomass, etc.), is often treated as a synonym for fine particle matter (also known as PM2.5). In the transportation sector, thanks to the progress in controlling tailpipe emissions, the contribution of non-tailpipe emissions (such as brake wear, tire wear, and resuspended road dust) to ambient PM2.5 has been rising across the U.S.

“In some states such as California, the contribution of non-tailpipe emissions has exceeded that of tailpipe emissions. However, non-tailpipe emissions are not regulated by the EPA at all. With the strengthened annual PM2.5 standard, it has become imperative to address how to regulate non-tailpipe emissions.”

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