Grant award for project to tackle air pollution in West African cities

Posted on 17 October 2019

Environmental and atmospheric scientists at the University of York and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) have been awarded £674,000 for a research project which aims to measure air pollution in some of West Africa’s fastest growing cities.

The project will create an online, open source platform to share designs for low cost air quality monitors developed at York in collaboration with academic institutions and agencies in West Africa.

Using the new platform, partners will be able to access technical information and diagrams to help them build their own monitors. The monitoring units can then be installed at key locations to give accurate air quality readings in cities across the region where atmospheric pollution is a growing problem.

The project is a joint initiative between the University’s Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories (WACL), the SEI and the Department of Environment and Geography who will work with partners in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. The award, from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), will help develop the new online resource to support West African partners in the building of their own air pollution monitoring equipment which will be used to support urban air quality policy.

Scalable solution

York is one of 18 international partnerships to win a share of £14.8m awarded to deliver scalable solutions for issues faced by low and middle-income countries.

Dr Pete Edwards from WACL said that commercial air quality monitors are available, but they are expensive to run and maintain. Many are also prone to faults caused by fluctuating power supplies and have high energy demands making them unsuitable for use in some developing countries.

“We’ve created a monitor made up of clusters of low cost components that are widely available - but can be assembled in different ways to suit the conditions and requirements for cities in West Africa,” he said.

“There are multiple components in each unit which means there are back-up components if one fails. And because they are low cost and widely available, it is easy for partners to maintain the units and replace faulty parts.”

Online community

As well as sharing technical information and training guides, the planned new web platform will support an online community where project partners can share information, technical support and advice.

Emissions from industry, cars and diesel powered generators in expanding urban areas all contribute to air quality problems in West Africa. The conditions cause major health problems and damage the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the continent.

Progress in tackling the problem has been hindered by a lack of reliable and robust monitoring data. The project will help to overcome this be providing detailed analysis on pollution hot spots.

The data gathered by the monitors will also help cities develop different ways to improve air quality with the help of a modelling tool developed by the SEI. The modelling tool - Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning Integrated Benefits Calculator (LEAP-IBC) - will help governments develop policies to reduce pollution.

Collaboration

Dr Johan Kuylenstierna, SEI Research Leader, said: “By combining the ability to monitor and model air pollution, cities will be provided with the necessary tools to support strategy development that will reduce the large impacts on human health. This will be the first time these cities will have access to these affordable tools and equipment that they can develop and maintain themselves.”

Dr Chris Malley from SEI said collaboration is the key to the project: “Rather than imposing a solution we will continue to work closely with partners in West Africa to co-design technology and approaches that are suited to the requirements and conditions found in the region.

“We have developed monitors that generate high quality data while being simple, reliable and easily repaired while having minimal demands on time and electrical power. The LEAP modelling will also help to inform government environmental policy and decision making.

“The GCRF award will help us translate this sustainable low cost technology from the labs to the streets of West Africa where it has the potential to make a major contribution to tackling a growing health crisis.”

The project has been funded as part of UKRI’s GCRF Innovation and Commercialisation Programme, developed to fast track promising research findings into real-world solutions.