Photochemical Smog

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Photochemical smog is a type of air pollution produced when sunlight acts upon waste gases such as from motor vehicle exhausts or power plants to form harmful substances such as ozone (O), aldehydes and peroxyacetylnitrate (PAN). Ozone causes breathing difficulties, headaches, fatigue and can trigger respiratory problems. The peroxyacetylnitrate in photochemical smog can irritate the eyes, causing them to water and sting. In some cases it has also been seen as fatal. It is considered to consist of two things Primary and secondary pollutants. Primary pollutants are when pollutants are released straight into the atmosphere, be it from factories, buses or power stations. It is then seen as a secondary pollutant if that primary pollutant is subject to another reaction. The everyday use of a car provides both primary and secondary pollutants. The following are a list of just what is released.

At the high temperatures of the cars cylinder, nitrogen and oxygen from the air react to form nitric oxide (NO)

N(g) + O(g) ----- NO(g)

Some of the nitric oxide (NO) reacts with oxygen to form nitrogen dioxide (NO)

NO(g) + O(g) ----- NO(g)

The mixture of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO) is sometimes referred to as NOx.

This is how NOx is formed within a car. However, NOx and SOx are also formed during processes in a coal fired power station. They make up the majority of coal-fired power stations outputs, along with waste heat and carbon dioxide. The waste heat is to be expected, as is the carbon dioxide. The NOx is formed as the coal is burnt. This is due to the organisms present in the sulphur, which is found within the coal. As it is burnt, the sulphur compounds are converted into oxides, or SOx. The NOx content, which is produced, can come from one of two different ways. This could be firstly that the fuel compounds that are burnt contain nitrogen. Nitrogen is formed from the proteins that are contained in organisms, and so when the fuel is burnt the compounds (like the SOx) are oxidised which makes NOx. Another way that this can happen is due to the high temperatures that are a result of combustion; nitrogen and oxygen combine to form thermal NOx.

The problem with this is that the stations are producing too much of these pollutants. There are concerns with how the waste should be minimised, which is also known as choosing the best practical environmental option, or BPEO. Because of this, ways are needed to cut down the emissions of both the N and the S.

There are however many ways to keep in line with the BPEO and reduce this waste. For S, reacting sulphur dioxide in the fumes released with limestone, which will form calcium carbonate (CaSO4). This process can be shown in the following equasion

CaCO(s) + SO(g) + HO(l)


(CaSO).HO(s) + CO(g)

(CaSO).HO(s) + O + HO



Another way of conforming to the BPEO is to simply dissolve the SOx in seawater and is aerated which helps to lower the severity of the sulphates. They can then be released into the sea, as the main sulphates are no longer excessively harmful. Also, the concentration in the sea is hardly noticeable.

There is also two ways in which the N emissions can be lowered. Heat levels play a key part in the first. The boilers had always been designed to release the maximum amount of heat possible. This enabled nitrogen molecules very susceptible to reacting with the oxygen molecules within the boiler. If the heat of the boiler is lowered, it makes the molecules less vulnerable to reaction. The other way is gas reburn. This is when the flue gas is recycled in order to lower NOx levels by reducing the levels of O that are in the furnace. A large part of the NOx formed is chemically removed by heating in colder parts of the furnace, as showed in the diagram below.

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