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Determination Of NOx in Automobile Exhaust Using UV-VIS Spectroscopy
 

Determination Of NOx in Automobile Exhaust Using UV-VIS Spectroscopy

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A mixture of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide is generally referred to as NOx. As a by-product found in automobile exhaust, NOx can be harmful to the environment, forming damaging tropospheric ozone.

At high temperatures in the combustion chamber of an engine, nitrogen and oxygen from the air can react to form nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. In the presence of sunlight, NOx reacts with volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere to form ozone and other products. Tropospheric ozone is a health risk, potentially causing lung and eye irritation amongst other complaints, and it is a major component of photochemical smog.

This video will illustrate the principles behind NOx and tropospheric ozone production, how to fabricate indicator solutions, and how to measure and quantify NOx production from automobile exhausts.

On-road automobiles account for approximately one-third of NOx emissions in the US, and emissions are strictly regulated through the Clean Air Act. Catalytic converters, located between a car's engine and tailpipe, can reduce NOx concentration in the exhaust significantly, but these require high temperatures to function, so will only reduce NOx after an automobile has been running long enough to warm the converter.

Because of this difference in the ability of catalytic converters to remove NOx at different temperatures, NOx emissions are typically read upon vehicle start up, and after running for 10 min. This gives a quantification of the NOx emission produced by the automobile, and also an indication of the ability of the catalytic converter to remove the NOx.

When NOx is added to a solution containing sulfanilic acid and naphthyl-ethylenediamine, the resultant reaction forms a pink colored azo dye molecule. The intensity of this pink is directly proportional to the concentration of NOx in the solution, and can be measured using a UV-VIS spectrophotometer to give a quantification of the amount of NOx when plotted against standards in a calibration curve.

Now that we are familiar with the process of NOx formation, let's look at how NOx production by automobiles can be quantified in an experimental setting.

To begin the experiment, detection solutions that will react with the NOx should be prepared. To prepare the nitrite stock solution, first weigh out 1.5 g of sodium nitrite and add it to a 1-L volumetric flask. Add nitrite-free water to the 1 L mark on the flask. This produces a stock solution of 1,000 μg nitrite per mL. Label this stock solution appropriately. To make a working solution of 5 μg nitrite per milliliter, take a fresh flask and add 1 mL of the stock solution. Dilute to 200 mL.

To prepare the NOx indicator solution, first weigh out 5 g of anhydrous sulfanilic acid, and add to a 1-L volumetric flask. To the same flask, add 500 mL of nitrite free water, then 140 mL of glacial acetic. Swirl the solution, until the sulfanilic acid dissolves.

Next, weigh out 20 mg of naphthyl-ethylenediamine and add it to the flask. Finally, fill the flask to the 1-L line with nitrite free water. Transfer the solution to a dark bottle to prevent photodecomposition, stopper tightly, and label appropriately.

To generate a standard curve, calibration standards need to be created. First, put 1 mL of the 5.0-μg nitrite stock solution into a 25-mL volumetric flask and dilute with the NOx indicator solution to the calibration mark. This makes a 0.2 μg NO2-/mL standard solution.

Next, prepare 0.4, 0.6, 0.8, and 1 μg NO2-/mL standard solutions by adding 2, 3, 4, and 5 mL nitrite solutions to separate 25-mL flasks, and fill each to the mark with NOx indicator solution.

Using a UV-VIS spectrophotometer, set the instrument to read absorbance. Next, set the wavelength to 550 nanometers. Add the NOx indicator solution to a clean spectrophotometer sample cell, and use this to zero the spectrophotometer. Finally, measure the absorbance of the five standard solutions, and record the values.

To begin the readings, start the diesel-powered automobile. Take a 60 mL gas-tight syringe and insert it a few inches into the tail pipe, taking care to avoid burns or inhaling fumes. Draw in and expel the exhaust twice to condition the syringe.

Next, draw 25 mL of the NOx indicator solution into the syringe. Expel any air from the syringe without spilling the indicator solution. Finally, draw 35 mL of exhaust into the syringe, pulling the plunger to the 60 mL mark, then withdraw and cap the syringe.

Shake the solution in the syringe by hand for 2 min. Cover the syringe with aluminum foil. Finally, measure the air temperature at the sample tail pipe. Repeat the sampling process with a gasoline powered automobile, and any other model or design of automobile desired.

Repeat the experiment after the vehicles have been running for at least 10 min. Once all the samples have been collected, wait 45 min to allow color to develop. Finally, expel the gas from the syringes, and place the sample indicator solutions into individual cuvettes. Measure the absorbance using the spectrophotometer set at 550 nm, and record the values.

Using the absorbance measurements of the standard solutions, make a plot of absorbance versus concentration of nitrite. Determine the best-fit line of the data. Using this best-fit line, calculate the concentration of nitrite in each test solution. This value can then be converted to nitrogen dioxide in the exhaust.

The concentration of nitrogen dioxide calculated actually represents all of the NOx in the exhaust sample. The ppmV, or parts per million by volume to μg/L conversion is dependent on the temperature and pressure at which the samples were collected.

Automobiles are not the only source of NOx. Monitoring its production is important in a wide range of fields.

Cigarette smoke often contains a higher concentration of NOx than emitted from automobile engines. Typical values for NOx in cigarette smoke range from 500-800 ppm, compared to 21-48 ppm for emissions from a gasoline car, or around 500 ppm for a diesel vehicle. This can result in a variety of personal health issues, including bronchitis, irritation of the nose and throat, respiratory infections, or blocking of oxygen transfer in the bloodstream. NOx levels in cigarette smoke can also be quantified using the methods shown in this video.

Nitrifying bacteria are found in soil and water, and play an important role in the nitrogen cycle, oxidizing ammonia to nitrite and then nitrate. As with exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke, the NOx levels in soil can also be examined and quantified colorimetrically.

Nitrates and nitrites can also be found in measureable amounts in food products. For cured foods, nitrates and nitrites may be added as a preservative, most commonly in meats and meat products. These have antimicrobial as well as color-fixing and preservation actions, and a significant indirect beneficial effect on flavor. However, too high of nitrite content can lead to medical complications including infant methemoglobinemia, or cause shortened shelf life of products due to effects like nitrite burn. Nitrite contents in cured foods therefore should be monitored closely, and this can be carried out using a modified version of the colorimetric test.

You've just watched JoVE's introduction to the determination of NOx. You should now understand how NOx is formed in automobile engines, how to formulate NOx indicator solutions, and how to measure and quantify NOx from vehicle exhaust fumes.

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