Position #32 – Biomass and air quality in urban environments

Host institution
ES - Universidad Politecnica de Madrid
Lab or research department name
Laboratory of Environmental Modelling (LMA) School of Industrial Engineering UPM
Mechanical Engineering
Sub-domain or keywords
Biomass, heating, atmospheric emissions, urban air quality, fuel switch, life cycle assessment
Type of mobility
Duration (months)
From 9 to 12 months

Energy demand increases as population does, especially in urban environments. Biomass has become an important alternative to conventional fuels in the residential, commercial and institutional sector in Europe due to rising fossil fuel prices and increased availability of biomass and new boilers. The environmental impact of this trend is not clear and has to be assessed on a case by case basis taking into account specific city characteristics, type of biomass and boiler technology.
Emissions from biomass burning in urban environments for heating purposes may vary considerably depending on the origin and process of biomass as well as boiler technology. In some cases, emissions of fine particles, persistent organic pollutants and other relevant atmospheric pollutants form the air quality and health perspective, can be as much as 30 times higher those of conventional fuels such as gasoil. The assessment of potential air quality issues has to take into account specific technology, biomass type and the exact location of new boilers. On the other hand, emissions and carbon budget need to be assessed from a wider perspective considering biomass production, processing and transport to consumption location as well as alternative uses for waste biomass.
In some cities of Spain such as Madrid, gasoil boilers are being replaced by biomass boilers in the recent years. Depending on the penetration of this energy source this process may lead to important urban air quality issues. This project intends to analyse alternative penetration patterns of biomass in Madrid. This includes different scenarios of boiler replacement in specific areas of the city that will be assessed in terms of emissions and air quality in the city through air quality modelling techniques. The scenarios will consider different technologies and emission factors, since, unlike other European countries, no specific emission standards for this kind of boilers exist currently in Spain. Finally, different biomass types will be assessed, paying special attention to olive pit, a waste from olive oil production produced massively in Spain and therefore, very relevant in this case study. The analysis will include not only local emissions and air quality assessment, but a comprehensive life cycle assessment to understand the implications of the usage of this fuel as a whole.
Depending on their particular interest the candidate activity may focus in any of the following tasks:
• The candidate will collaborate in the compilation of emission inventories, including emission factor collection and spatial and temporal allocation of sources in the city under different penetration scenarios
• They will work together with the staff of the Environmental Modelling Laboratory to run and process outputs from a multi-scale chemical transport Eulerian model.
• They will also collaborate in the life cycle assessment study of waste biomass for this particular application

From January 2016
Maximum available positions
Degree on sciences, industrial, environmental or similar engineering. English. Experience on air quality modelling is encouraged but not necessary.
Rafael Borge <rborge@etsii.upm.es>