Innovating for Clean Air
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The Innovating for Clean Air (IfCA) project is a collaborative effort by the Energy Systems Catapult, the Connected Places Catapult, the Satellite Applications Catapult, 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.
As a second phase of the IfCA project the Connected Places Catapult is now looking at policies and regulations that concern the procurement of services in the Karnataka state and Bengaluru city. The aim is to look at how cities can better procure the services of highly innovative small to mid-sized companies. The report launch will focus on research and stakeholder interview findings from Bengaluru and state of Karnataka and lessons learned for future procurement practices in India.
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.
Worldwide, 91% of people are regularly breathing air violating World Health Organisation guidelines, with low to middle income countries suffering highest pollution levels and adverse health impacts. WHO estimates physiological effects of air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths a year.
Air pollution costs the Indian economy $95 billion per year -around 3% of India’s total GDP. The cost is equal to 50% of all tax collected annually, or 150% of India’s healthcare budget. (Clean Air Fund).
In the UK, the annual health and social care costs of air pollution are estimated to be £157 million, potentially £18.6 billion by 2035 unless action is taken. (Imperial College London).
Most brick kilns in India are based on the traditional Fixed Chimney Bull’s Trench Kiln (FCBTK) type and there is a requirement to convert existing FCBTK to a newer design – known as Zigzag – which is more energy efficient and generates significantly less air pollution. Satellite image analysis offers a promising solution for periodically mapping and monitoring brick kiln operations across large areas – as opposed to time consuming ground-based surveys.
Brick kilns typically stand apart visibly from surrounding land-cover and may be readily identified in high resolution optical satellite imagery by their unique geometric features. It is also possible to differentiate between oval shaped FCBTK, circular Hoffman, and cleaner rectangular Zigzag kilns.
A study undertaken in 2021 by the Satellite Applications Catapult, looked at the automatic identification and classification of brick kiln sites brick kilns across large areas in high resolution satellite imagery.
The study concluded the viability of adopting a coarse-to-fine detection strategy underpinned by the analysis of open access Sentinel-2 L2A imagery, as an alternative to procuring expensive high-resolution commercial imagery over large areas. The project was cut short by the Covid pandemic, but further research and development, by the Satellite Applications Catapult or other organisations, is recommended.
THE ROLE OF SATELLITES
You cannot manage what you cannot measure. To tackle the current air pollution problem, measurement needs to be a priority.
Traditionally, ground monitoring stations have provided the bulk of air quality measurements. But availability of point-source observations is often hindered by the paucity of the monitoring network, which can be costly to install and maintain.
Satellite data can help with the shortcomings of a land-based monitoring network, at a significantly lower cost and are increasingly seen as an integral part of environmental monitoring and analysis.
This marks a significant leap forward in the ability of scientists to monitor air pollution from space. The regular measurement of ozone and its precursors NOx and volatile organic compounds, along with particulate matter, SO2 and other pollutants, will improve the accuracy of air quality forecasts, top-down emission rates and understanding on the long-range transport of air pollutants.
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.
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.