Exhaust gas or flue gas is emitted as a result of the combustion of fuels such as natural gas, gasoline/petrol, diesel fuel, fuel oil or coal. According to the type of engine, it is discharged into the atmosphere through an exhaust pipe, flue gas stack or propelling nozzle. It often disperses downwind in a pattern called an exhaust plume.
The largest part of most combustion gas is nitrogen (N2), water vapor (H2O) (except with pure-carbon fuels), and carbon dioxide (CO2) (except for fuels without carbon); these are not toxic or noxious (although carbon dioxide is generally recognized as a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming). A relatively small part of combustion gas is undesirable noxious or toxic substances, such as carbon monoxide (CO) from incomplete combustion, hydrocarbons (properly indicated as CxHy, but typically shown simply as "HC" on emissions-test slips) from unburnt fuel, nitrogen oxides (NOx) from excessive combustion temperatures, Ozone (O3), and particulate matter (mostly soot).
Exhaust gas temperature (EGT) is important to the functioning of the catalytic converter of an internal combustion engine. It may be measured by an exhaust gas temperature gauge. EGT is also a measure of engine health in gas-turbine engines (see below).
In spark-ignition engines the gases resulting from combustion of the fuel and air mix are called exhaust gases. The composition varies from petrol to diesel engines, but is around these levels:
|Compound||% of total||Compound||% of total|
|CO||1 - 2||O2||10|
|Trace elements||< 0.5||~ 0.3|
|NOx||< 0.25||NOx||< 0.15|
|CxHy||< 0.25||CO||< 0.045|
|SO2||possible traces||PM||< 0.045|
Exhaust gas from an internal combustion engine whose fuel includes nitromethane will contain nitric acid vapour, which when inhaled causes a muscular reaction making it impossible to breathe. People exposed to it should wear a gas mask.
In steam engine terminology the exhaust is steam that is now so low in pressure that it can no longer do useful work.
Emission standards focus on reducing pollutants contained in the exhaust gases from vehicles as well as from industrial flue gas stacks and other air pollution exhaust sources in various large-scale industrial facilities such as petroleum refineries, natural gas processing plants, petrochemical plants and chemical production plants. However, these are often referred to as flue gases. Catalytic converters in cars intend to break down the pollution of exhaust gases using a catalyst. Scrubbers in ships intend to remove the sulfur dioxide (SO2) of marine exhaust gases. The regulations on marine sulfur dioxide emissions are tightening.
One of the advantages claimed for advanced steam technology engines is that that they produce smaller quantities of toxic pollutants (e.g. oxides of nitrogen) than petrol and diesel engines of the same power. They produce larger quantities of carbon dioxide but less carbon monoxide due to more efficient combustion.
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