Taking charge of air quality control in Europe’s smart, green cities


Air pollutants in the EU are still estimated to reduce life expectancy by eight months and are directly linked to climate change. A network of 25 SMEs, spin-offs and researchers from around 120 institutions across 38 countries worldwide (31 European) is now trying to develop affordable, low-power sensors to assess indoor and outdoor air quality and eventually reduce greenhouse gases and other toxic pollutants. The COST Action will also look into environmental sustainability and ways of better managing green buildings at low carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions.

Why do smart sensors matter?

Smart sensing systems can detect toxic chemicals we inhale in our homes, at school or at work, evaporating from building renovation materials or furnishings. Outdoor air quality sensors detect the level of emissions leading to respiratory and heart diseases.

Citizen engagement is part of the network’s efforts to improve quality of life in smart cities. Sensors already available on the market are not restricted to scientists’ use but potentially available as personal devices that can help improve the overall quality of data on air pollution levels. Crowdsourcing is an alternative to relying solely on governments’ environmental data – asthma sufferers can assess air quality at home or at work, while scientists can better understand why pollution levels vary from one area to another and how to mitigate pollution impacts.

A network of spin-offs and SMEs

The 25 spin-offs and SMEs are directly involved in producing sensor materials and devices using nanotechnologies, including advanced methods for odour monitoring. They are also researching new environmental measures, new technical standards and business models, while getting other companies on board. Mapping and connecting innovative, European private enterprises working on air quality control will lead to a bigger, better picture of the present-day standards and future technology needs.

Participants have been collaborating with the WHO Collaborating Centre for Air Quality Management, the EU Commission’s Joint Research Centre and meteorological agencies in Italy, Hungary and Norway.

I am very proud to have helped create and link this international S&T network with top experts. We’ve achieved a lot through our scientific discussions, technological proofs of concepts, joint exercises, inter-comparisons, training schools, and best practice exchanges, to name a few. And, just as important, a European network of friends! (Chair Dr Michele Penza)

A EuNetAir partner, Siemens provided the industry’s view on indoor quality: despite measurements still needing improvement, accurate and cost-effective sensors are extremely urgent for practical applications. Given the need for a common standard assessing the variety of air pollutants across the EU, Siemens has been testing a complete set of application systems to include new sensors into existing building management systems.

The way to technology transfer

Already in its third year, the network has tested sensors in London (UK) and Aveiro (Portugal). The London test showed how 36 low-cost wireless sensors placed in and around Heathrow airport could gather enough data to set up a tailored database while using existing GPRS and GPS technologies to easily communicate results. The Aveiro experiment was based on air quality sensors installed side-by-side in a mobile laboratory. It successfully assessed sensors’ performance against reference analysers, part of a medium-term experimental campaign in the city centre. This was an innovative approach to using air quality sensors in real measurements.

The first EuNetAir training school was one of the 2013 Green Week ‘s 50 satellite events. 20 early career investigators learned to compare low-cost sensor measurements to reference analysers in order to evaluate sensors in a real-life scenario, also using protocols for environmental measurements.

With other Horizon 2020 proposals in the pipeline, COST Action members have been involved in various national and 10 EU funded research consortia, of which SENSindoor spun out of EuNetAir. The project aims to develop smart, energy efficient ventilation sensor systems detecting airborne chemicals in buildings. Similarly, ongoing FP7 project MSP targets nanotech-based sensors for a smarter building management.

The EuNetAir dream is to transform the S&T network into a European platform with academia, research and industrial leadership. (Chair Dr Michele Penza)

EuNetAir is also supporting EU Commission’s Sensor Systems Cluster (ESSC) ( www.cluster-essc.eu ), a pan-European network of experts trying to enhance collaboration among sensor-systems applications experts. The Action’s report oninnovation in environmental sensor technologies due in 2016 is also meant to help technology transfer.