Innovating for Clean Air

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The Innovating for Clean Air (IfCA) project was a collaborative effort by the Energy Systems Catapult, the Connected Places Catapult, the Satellite Applications Catapult, and was supported by UK and Indian specialist partners. Funded by Innovate UK with matched resources from partners in Karnataka and India, IfCA sought to address the major global issue of air pollution by trialling methods for reducing emissions in Bengaluru, India. Church Street, Bengaluru’s busiest street, became pedestrianised at weekends to trial innovative solutions aimed at reducing harmful particulate matter by reducing emissions and improving air quality. The project also implemented a Clean Air Testbed, which included the creation of an app using GIS technology to map out emissions so members of the population could make informed routes to destinations based on air pollution.


Clean air is increasingly hard to come by.

In India, where 22 out of 30 of the world’s most polluted cities are found, 1.67 million deaths were caused by air pollution in 2019 alone, with 980,000 of those attributable to ambient particulate matter. This cost $36.8 billion USD (1.36% of India’s GDP) in economic losses and constituted a 115% increase in deaths between 1990 and 2019[1].

And whilst transport is responsible for around 23% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, a study in New Delhi found that the transport sector accounts for 19% of PM10, 39% of PM2.52 and 81% of NOx3 emissions in the city[2].

If we can reduce particulate matter in the air, particularly within transport, we can curtail the human and economic costs of air pollution. Supporting the transition to, and adoption of, Electric Vehicles (EV) is one way to do this. Enabling and demonstrating impactful air quality interventions is another.

The Innovating for Clear Air (IfCA) project explored these solutions in one of the most innovative cities in India, Bengaluru.

Why Bengaluru?

When it comes to air quality, Bengaluru faces similar challenges to London. The two cities are founding partners of the C40 Air Quality Network and like London, Bengaluru’s air pollution exceeds the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) limits. Both Indian and UK governments have announced ambitious plans to encourage Electric Vehicle ownership.

But plans of adopting electric vehicles are constrained by power grid capacity and reliability in India. Bengaluru has experienced rapid growth in vehicle ownership in recent years which has caused concern amongst its citizens, who are increasingly worried about air quality. With the world’s fastest growing economy and second largest population, enabling clean air solutions is integral for India’s future.

Bengaluru has a strong UK government presence, which made the city an ideal location for collaboration between Indian and British academics and businesses to solve issues of clean air.

The Project

IfCA focussed on two main areas of research: the Clean Air Street and Clean Air Testbed.

From November 2020 for 6 weeks, Church Street, Bengaluru was pedestrianised at weekends to allow for trials of innovative technologies from Indian and British SMEs aimed at reducing air pollution, with air quality sensors monitoring changes in emissions.

Alongside this, SMEs from India and the UK worked to create innovative solutions to improve air quality awareness by monitoring brick kiln emissions across the city.

Despite the global pandemic and its accompanying logistical problems, the Innovating for Clean Air project is considered an economic, environmental, and capacity building success. IfCA helped to develop the local economy and create jobs in the low carbon energy sector, boost market growth in both India and the UK and created new opportunities for collaborative innovation projects.

Perhaps the most interesting development of the project is the creation of a GIS application that allowed citizens to visualise pollutants in an area on a map. Armed with this information, pedestrians are able to take ownership of their daily exposure to harmful particulate matter and make safer journeys. The result is a simple yet effective way for citizens to manage their health and one of the many improvements in public health the project offered.

This provides an improvement in citizen understanding of air quality issues and solutions including benefits of EV adoption.

Despite initial fears from traders in the area, who worried that pedestrianizing Church Street would disrupt trade, reports from IfCA have failed to demonstrate any negative impacts or limitations.

Results of the project offer a promising opportunity to scale up and replicate the benefits in other locations (India’s Directorate for Urban Land and Transport (DULT) already has plans to replicate the IfCA methodology in other cities.).

The Innovating for Clean Air Project addressed a global issue in one of many cities that experience issues with exposure to air pollutants. Its largest contribution is likely to be the influence on policy and decision making on emission producing products and services that affect air quality.

The Satellite Applications Catapult is kicking off the ‘Year of Climate’ initiative with “The Race to Net Zero: Actionable Steps Towards Innovating for Clear Air”; a virtual event featuring talks from key members of the Innovating for Clean Air project.

The event, taking place on Thursday 22 July 2021, will explore ways in which the satellite community can help to explore solutions to climate issues. You can register for tickets here.