If good things come in small packages, then a $70,000 small-business grant from the U.S. EPA could rock the fast food world. The pea sized grant will go to develop a low cost pollution control retrofit for commercial underfired charbroilers like the one at your local burger joint. Innova Tech, the company that won the grant, is developing an energy efficient system that combines a filter, vapor condenser, and continuous grease removal system. If the technology proves successful, it could provide a key to reducing the impact of commercial cookeries on rapid glacier melt.
Charbroilers and Rapid Glacier Melt
In the U.S. alone, restaurants and other food service operations pump out more than 285 tons of particulate matter every day, and 41 tons of volatile organic compounds. By far the bulk of it – an estimated 94% – comes from underfired charbroilers.
Particulate matter is a three-dollar word for soot or “black carbon.” The World Bank and other organizations have targeted black carbon as a key contributor to rapid glacier melt. When they’re covered with a layer of soot, glaciers absorb more heat.
The Big Freeze
Reducing black carbon seems to have potential as a quick, effective way to slow glacier melt. Unlike carbon dioxide, which persists in the atmosphere for decades, the effects of black carbon can start to disappear relatively quickly. Once the source is reduced, the particles eventually settle to the ground, and eventually they can be covered by snow or ice that contains less soot.
Because of their high volume and long hours of operation, charbroilers make a juicy target for reducing or in some cases eliminating black carbon related to commercial food prep, across the board. If Innova Tech’s project or similar technologies become industry standards, it would be a significant step compared to the current state of affairs. Green fast food restaurants are still a rarity and you can switch to home-made fast food or make personal green choices about fast food, but as long as millions of people eat out every day, this is the kind of technological improvement needed to make any real impact on black carbon emissions – from businesses.
A much thornier problem is reducing the emission of black carbon from individual households, especially those dependent on smoky cooking fuels including wood and dung. Without a wholesale switch to solar ovens or smokeless grills on the horizon, Innova Tech’s project hints at a different approach, a future that could include the widespread use of low cost black carbon pollution controls for home use.
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