Elemental carbon (EC) or black carbon (BC) in the atmosphere has a strong influence on both climate and human health. In this study, radiocarbon (14C) based source apportionment is used to distinguish between fossil fuel and biomass burning sources of EC isolated from aerosol filter samples collected in Beijing from June 2010 to May 2011. The 14C results demonstrate that EC is consistently dominated by fossil-fuel combustion throughout the whole year with a mean contribution of 79% ± 6% (ranging from 70% to 91%), though EC has a higher mean and peak concentrations in the cold season. The seasonal molecular pattern of hopanes (i.e. a class of organic markers mainly emitted during the combustion of different fossil fuels) indicates that traffic-related emissions are the most important fossil source in the warm period and coal combustion emissions are significantly increased in the cold season. By combining 14C based source apportionment results and picene (i.e. an organic marker for coal emissions) concentrations, relative contributions from coal and vehicle to EC in the cold period were estimated as 25±4% and 50±7%, respectively, whereas the coal combustion contribution was negligible or very small in the warm period.