Eco design : The challenge of reducing fine particles emissions

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  • October 28, 2020
Eco design : Fine particles emissions

As we have seen in a previous article, environmental protection is a critical issue in our society. If physical pollution, such as packaging, is a major problem, the impact of air pollution should not be minimized. This pollution is due not only to CO2 emissions but also to another factor: fine particles.

What are fine particles?

Fine particles, such as carbon black, are small, suspended particles of less than 2.5 microns diameter. They can be of natural origin (e.g. volcanic eruptions) and anthropogenic, especially from industrial processes and fuels. Therefore, they are very present in the agricultural sector, linked to farming and cultivation methods (buildings, spreading, fertilizing, harvesting, etc.). According to a study carried out by the Earth Institute at the University of Colombia, livestock, and chemical fertilizers account for 55% of air pollution originating in human activity. Fertilizers are also responsible for the same amount of fine particulate matter in the United States as vehicles and power plants. In France, livestock farming is the main greenhouse gas emission station in agriculture.

In the consumer goods sector, the food industry is not the only one to emit fine particulate matter. Cosmetics industries also contribute significantly to the pollution of the air, being equally subject to the problems of raw material supplies (whose production is itself polluting), packaging, and transport.

Why worry about fine particles?

The effects of fine particles can be severe on human health, ranging from aging skin to impaired lung function. Indeed, their size allows them to enter the body and create oxidative stress resulting in different pathologies. They cause 3.3 million deaths a year worldwide.

From an environmental point of view, fine particulate matter is the main contributor to the greenhouse effect after CO2. They cause soil degradation, rock corrosion, and forest dieback because of their impact on plant growth.

Considering such impacts, reducing the emission of fine particulate matter and improving air quality are global priorities.  These pollutants have a short lifespan (from a few days to a few years), concrete actions towards their reduction will quickly bear fruit and could slow climate change in the short term. These actions often happen to be complementary to those aimed at reducing CO2.

Eco design : How can emissions be reduced?

Two relatively evident solutions to counter the emission of fine particles are to limit transport and reduce the use of fertilizers. Thus, policy investments favor rapid transits and bike lanes. Another path is the incentive for better consumption through repeated messages and access to environmental information on products. Vegetable alternatives to limit meat consumption are growing. But these measures alone cannot suffice, some of which are not mandatory, and certainly not always clear.

What makes it difficult to control these emissions is the great diversity of chemical composition of the different fine particles. This complexity makes measuring each type of particle complex. An X particle mass does not have the same effects as the Y particle mass, so each particle mass must be measured accurately. Moreover, to have a significant effect on emissions, it must be able to measure the quantitative implication of each of the sources to compare (manufacturing process, transport,…).

To produce environmentally friendly products, eco-design must be integrated from the early stage of the design process and maintain its principles throughout the life cycle. Based on the data provided at each stage of the cycle, it becomes possible to assess the environmental impact of the product, such as the greenhouse effect.

PLM solutions, in addition to ensuring compliance with the latest regulations, consider environmental information of raw materials, packaging, manufacturing process, and transport. This allows manufacturers to conduct simulations of a product’s environmental impact and make informed decisions based on accurate indicators and dashboards.

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