Wildfires: Emissions from Burning Structures
Pre-Proposal Solicitation Scope of Work for:
Determine emission factors and chemical speciation from burning structures due to wildfires in California for use in air quality and health impact assessments
This project will determine emission factors (EFs) and chemical speciation from burning structures typical of those located in California due to wildfires. The EFs will be compared to prior research and the researchers will participate in a broader wildfire program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), funded by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire). NIST plans to burn a series of full-scale structures built to California building code standards. This work will provide CARB the ability to estimate the potential benefit of decreased destructive capacity of wildfires through improved forest management and increased defensible space.
In the western United States, due to fire suppression and climate change, the number of large wildfires has been increasing since the 1980s. In recent years wildfires account for up to 25% of PM2.5 across the United States, and up to 50% in some western regions. In California, the 7 largest wildfires (since records began in 1932) took place from 2015 to 2020, with 2021 already being another extreme wildfire year. Many of these large wildfires happened at the wildland-urban interface (WUI), where human made structures mix with natural vegetation. In California, about 8 million acres of land and 12 million homes are located in the WUI; 35% of human-caused ignitions occurred within WUI and another 45% within a 4km buffer beyond the WUI. Fourteen out of twenty of the most destructive wildfires in California occurred since 2017, destroying tens of thousands of structures. Coupled with climate change, the WUI growth trends will exacerbate wildfire problems in the future and place more people and structures at risk from fire and smoke.
WUI fires expose large populations to toxic chemicals contained in smoke from burning construction materials, plastics, metals, petroleum products, etc. The composition of smoke will depend on the types of materials used for the housing stock. The emissions of particulate matter (PM) and toxic chemicals from those intense fires at the WUI are not well studied since most studies have measured emissions from small pieces of these materials combusted in a cone calorimeter or tube furnace. Newly developed approaches and methods for the fire exposure model are making it possible to more accurately simulate and track emissions from smoke, and predict exposure to toxic chemicals released from WUI fires. However, model performance which is based on model assumptions and inputs, should be evaluated against field or laboratory observations to make sure it represents reality.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is updating modelling on California’s Natural and Working Lands (NWL). This modeling will result in carbon, water, fire, air quality, health, and economic outcomes associated with various future climate and management scenarios. A portion of this model also focuses on settlements, which includes incorporating structural carbon emissions into the WUI modeling effort. Hence, structural fire emission factors are needed to accurately estimate the emission mitigation associated with avoiding structure fires as a result of wildfire.
III. Scope of Work
This project will improve the estimation and understanding of smoke emissions and compositions from wildfires at the WUI in California and will determine emission factors and chemical speciation from burning structures typical of those located in California due to wildfires. The contractor should develop a research plan and perform all tasks as described below.
Task 1: Design Research Plan for Structure Fire Emissions Project
This task involves laboratory investigations, such as collaborations with NIST’s National Fire Research Laboratory (NFRL), which is able to characterize the response of full-scale building systems (including building components and furniture) to realistic mechanical loading and fire. The contractor will also make use of previously collected data from other field campaigns and measurement networks. The contractor will conduct a critical literature review on the physical and chemical properties of particulate matter (PM) and gas phase species emitted from combustion of the built environment, that are representative of the current California housing typical in high fire-prone WUI areas.
Overall goal is the development of the measurement plan to establish a performance-based design framework linking fire metrics with structural emission factors that include household materials.
Task 2: Define Optimum Methods and Data Requirements
Task 2a: The contactor will determine emission factors and chemical speciation from burning structures typical of those located in California due to wildfires. The EFs will be compared to prior research and the researchers will also participate in laboratory investigations, such as a broader effort at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), funded by CalFire. NIST plans to burn a series of full-scale structures built to California building code standards, including both real building materials and building contents.
Task 2b: The contractor will define the methodology for estimating emissions from structure fires. For instance, fuel load which is associated with the building’s structure itself and fuel load of building contents that include furnishings, appliances, and fuel consumption. Overall goal is to derive new or improved emission factors (mass of pollutant emitted/mass of fuel consumed).
Task 3: Collect and Analyze fire Samples and Data
The contractor will measure emissions using sampling system and measure particles, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and Intermediate-Volatility Organic Compounds (IVOCs) and Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs), PM2.5, metals, and organic and elemental carbon.
This airborne sampling and analysis of gaseous and particulate compounds will be used to determine EFs for total gases and total PM, as well as for gaseous and particulate chemical components, relative to mass burned. Furthermore, considering the relationships between ecosystems, climate and fire activity, the contractor will investigate two priority areas:
- How is the chemical composition of smoke plumes produced by wildfires related to the volume and type of natural (biomass) and built environment?
- How do ecosystem characteristics and total available built environment impact the growth and spread of wildfires in WUI?
To the extent possible, data analyses could include analysis of wildland fire smoke impacts on urban areas and fires at the wildland-urban interface; for instance, model structure-to-structure spread of wildfire once it enters the WUI. Currently, there is limited understanding of how wildfire spreads once it enters communities, which makes it hard to accurately map and model wildfire risk to structures. If one could better predict wildfire spread from structure to structure, we could design a better mitigation plan to limit or eliminate the potential fire risk.
Addressing these questions could lead to development of better models that could be used to predict how wildfires spread in different ecosystems and under different conditions. The data can be used to build models that give us better predictions of wildfire spread and emissions. This will also help us predict how changes in biomass resulting from climate change may influence fire activity in the future.
The contractor will deliver to CARB the following:
At Beginning of Contract
- Work with CARB staff at the beginning of the project to create a 1-page plain-language outreach deliverable for public describing the project’s goals, process, and planned deliverables (available in multiple languages, template will be provided)
During Active Contract Period
- Quarterly Progress Reports and conference calls; The progress reports will include plain-language summaries that can be posted publicly. A progress report template will be provided
- Consultation calls with CARB and key stakeholders
Prior to Contract Close
- Final data products created under this contract include all data, analyses and analytical tools generated through the course of this project
- Draft final report
- Include a plain language summary in draft final report
- Include an equity implications section in draft final report
- Work with CARB to create plain-language outreach deliverables for public summarizing results and impact of project (available in multiple languages)
- Final Report and virtual or in-person seminar
- Peer reviewed publications should be publicly available (please budget for this expense; submission-ready publications shall be reviewed by CARB staff)
Additional deliverables to be determined in consultation with CARB staff.
It is anticipated this project will be completed in 36 months from the start date. The estimated budget for this project is $650,000.
- Responsiveness to the Goals and Objectives Outlined in the Proposal Solicitation(15 points) Proposers should demonstrate a clear understanding of the policy objectives and research needs that CARB seeks to address with this project and should convey their knowledge of the subject. The proposal should spell out, in adequate detail, exactly what the Proposer proposes to do to satisfy the requirements of the Solicitation. The draft proposal must propose work that would satisfy the objective(s) stated in the Research Solicitation: This project will determine emission factors (EFs) and chemical speciation from burning structures typical of those located in California due to wildfires. The EFs will be compared to prior research and the researchers will participate in laboratory investigations, such as collaborations with NIST’s National Fire Research Laboratory (NFRL) that is capable to characterize the response of full-scale building systems (including building components and furniture) to realistic mechanical loading and fire. This work will provide CARB the ability to estimate the potential benefit of decreased destructive capacity of wildfires through improved forest management and increased defensible space.
- POLICY RELEVANCE/BENEFITS TO THE STATE(10 points) – Does the proposal describe how the project will provide data, information, and/or products to help CARB accomplish its mission? In particular, how does the proposal support CARB’s mission to achieve climate mitigation and air quality goals; California land-use and fire policy; policy-relevant science to aid in the process of managing fires.
- PREVIOUS WORK (15 points) – Do the researchers have relevant experience in this area? Is the team composed of a multidisciplinary team of experts? Do they discuss how they will build upon previous relevant work that was funded by CARB, other state agencies (e.g., CalFire), the U.S. EPA, U.S. Department of the Interior, USDA, National Science Foundation, and NOAA. Does the team bring in new talent that has not worked with CARB previously? Researchers new to CARB are encouraged to apply. Multidisciplinary teams and/or researchers from smaller universities are also encouraged to apply. 5 points will be reserved for project teams that meet at least one of the following criteria:
- The project team is multi-disciplinary
- The project team members come from various universities or include non-academic institutions or community-based organizations
- The project team includes one or more members, contributing significantly to the project (i.e. a principle investigator, co-principle investigator or co-investigator, contributing 25% or more of their time to the project) who have not worked with CARB in the past 5 years.
- TECHNICAL MERIT (30 points) - Describe the submission's technical strengths and/or weaknesses. Proposers should demonstrate the logic and feasibility of the methodology and technical approach to the project, spell out the sequence and relationships of major tasks, and explain methods for performing the actual work. Please factor in how well the draft proposal describes these areas:
- Is this scientifically defensible measurement approach? Will the methodology provide novel data to achieve the objectives?
- Are the techniques used in the measurements comprehensive? Are the data analyses methodology scientifically sound?
- Are they using advanced monitoring and analytical techniques to improve chemical characterization of the gas and particles emitted from structure fire activity?
- Do they have direct access to the research facilities or own laboratory space, which houses the primary equipment for this project, such as a gas chromatograph with a time-of-flight mass spectrometer?
- What is the team’s knowledge and expertise in management of controlled burns for reducing fire risk, wildland fire science and ecology, the linkages between fire and land management practices, ecosystem function and resilience, and fire emissions and impacts?
- The review team will be selecting only one draft proposal for development into a full proposal. If this draft proposal has potential, what areas or topics should be prioritized or better explained in the full proposal?
- LEVEL AND QUALITY OF EFFORT TO BE PROVIDED(15 points) – Does the proposal allocate time and resources in such a way that the objectives of the study will be met? Is supervision and oversight adequate for ensuring that the project will remain on schedule? Is the distribution of workload appropriate for activities such as research, evaluation and analysis, data reduction, computer simulation, report preparation, meetings, and travel?
- COST EFFECTIVENESS (15 points) - Does the cost seem appropriate for the proposed work? Does the proposed work seem feasible within the requested budget? Projects that provide co-funding should be evaluated more favorably.