Effect of Fuel Wobbe Number on Pollutant Emissions from Advanced Technology Residential Water Heaters: Results of Controlled Experiments

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The research summarized in this report is part of a larger effort to evaluate the potential air quality impacts of using liquefied natural gas in California. A difference of potential importance between many imported liquefied natural gas blends and the natural gas blends that have been distributed in California in recent years is the higher Wobbe number of liquefied natural gas. Wobbe number is a measure of the energy delivery rate for appliances that use orifice- or pressure-based fuel metering. The effect of varying natural gas blends and associated Wobbe number on pollutant emissions from residential water heaters was evaluated in controlled experiments. Experiments were conducted on eight storage water heaters, including five with “ultra low-NOX” burners, and four on-demand (tankless) water heaters, all of which featured ultra low-NOX burners. Pollutant emissions were quantified as air-free concentrations in the appliance flue and fuel-based emission factors in units of nanogram of pollutant emitter per joule of fuel energy consumed. Emissions were measured for carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOX), nitrogen oxide (NO), formaldehyde and acetaldehyde as the water heaters were operated through defined operating cycles using fuels with varying Wobbe number. The reference fuel was Northern California line gas with Wobbe number ranging from 1344 to 1365. Test fuels had Wobbe numbers of 1360, 1390 and 1420. The most prominent finding was an increase in NOX emissions with increasing Wobbe number: all five of the ultra low-NOX storage water heaters and two of the four ultra low-NOX on-demand water heaters had statistically discernible (p<0.10) increases in NOX with increasing fuel Wobbe number. The largest percentage increases occurred for the ultra low-NOX water heaters. There was a discernible change in CO emissions with changes in Wobbe number for all four of the on-demand devices tested. The on-demand water heater with the highest CO emissions also had the largest CO increase with increasing fuel Wobbe number.

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