Biomass pellets are a source of renewable energy; although, the air pollution and exposure risks posed by the emissions from burning pellets in biomass boilers (BBs) are uncertain. The present study examines the organic species in fine particle matter (PM) emissions from an BB firing switchgrass (SwG) and hardwood (HW) biomass pellets using different test cycles. The organic and elemental carbon (OC and EC) content and select semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) in filter-collected PM were identified and quantified using thermal-optical analysis and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS), respectively. Fine PM emissions from the BB ranged from 0.4 g/kg to 2.91 g/kg of pellets burned of which 40% ± 17% w
was carbon. The sum of GC–MS quantified SVOCs in the PM emissions varied from 0.13 to 0.41 g/g OC. Relatively high levels of oxygenated compounds were observed in the PM emissions, and the most predominant individual SVOC constituent was levoglucosan (12.5–320 mg/g OC). The effect of boiler test cycle on emissions was generally greater than the effect due to pellet fuel type. Organic matter emissions increased at lower loads, owing to less than optimal combustion performance. Compared with other types of residential wood combustion studies, pellet burning in the current BB lowered PM emissions by nearly an order of magnitude. PM emitted from burning pellets in boilers tested across multiple studies also contains comparatively less carbon; however, the toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in the PM tested across these pellet-burning studies varied substantially, and produced 2–10 times more benzo[k
]anthracene and indeno[1,2,3-c,d
]pyrene on average. These results suggest that further toxicological evaluation of biomass pellet burning emissions is required to properly understand the risks posed.
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