What is it about?

Particulate matter, often formed via cloud processing, strongly influences the Earth’s climate and air quality. Particle composition depends on anthropogenic and biogenic emissions. Thus, in order to understand climate change, knowledge of the difference between preindustrial and current conditions is critical. Under preindustrial conditions, multifunctional organic hydroperoxides, which are strong oxidants and have the ability to contribute to particulate matter formation, are in higher concentrations in the atmosphere. In this work, we focus on the previously unknown importance of hydroxymethyl hydroperoxide, which can be formed by gas-phase reactions and in-cloud reaction of hydrogen peroxide with the simplest aldehyde, formaldehyde, revealing the catalytic role of formaldehyde, and demonstrate that this chemistry is of great importance for particle formation.

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Why is it important?

This work highlights a remarkable new catalytic pathway in which formaldehyde contributes significantly to particulate formation, with critical importance for quantifying differences between preindustrial and modern conditions. Hence, the pathway should be considered in all models of particulate matter. Particulate matter plays an important role in climate and human health and thus this work has significant importance for air quality models as it suggests formaldehyde can play a previously not considered role in particulate matter formation and for climate as the processes discussed in our work are especially relevant in defining preindustrial conditions, i.e., the starting point of determining anthropogenic forcing.


Conducting this work and writing this article provided us the opportunity to combine a variety of experimental and modeling methods. This article lead to a new catalytic pathway of formaldehyde to particulate matter formation and emphasized the crucial role of one-carbon molecules to the atmospheric environment.

Eleni Dovrou

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Catalytic role of formaldehyde in particulate matter formation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2113265119.
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