Controlled bench scale pulverized coal combustion studies were performed, demonstrating that inorganic particles play a critical role as carriers of organic species. Two commonly-used aerosol mass spectrometry techniques were applied to characterize fine particle formation during coal combustion. It was found that the organic species in coal combustion aerosols have mass spectra similar to those generated by biomass combustion. Ambient measurements in Shanghai, China confirm the presence of these species in approximately 29–38% of the sampled particles. With the absence of major biomass sources in the Shanghai area, it is suggested that coal combustion may be the main source of these particles. This work indicates there is a significant potential for incorrect apportionment of coal combustion particles to biomass burning sources using widely adopted mass spectrometry techniques.
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