Quantification of Utility of Atmospheric Network Technologies (QUANT)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemistry

Abstract

Low-cost air pollution sensors have a potentially vital role to play in tackling air pollution in the UK and globally, offering a paradigm shift in the way observations are made. The high time resolution and ability to create dense networks of these devices will be essential when evaluating the health impacts of air pollution exposure and assessing potential solutions. The ability to use combinations of these devices to extract new information on key health relevant parameters also has huge potential when it comes to understanding health effects and pollutant sources. This potential is being limited, however, by a lack of confidence in low-cost sensor devices due to reported issues such as interferences on sensor signals and sensor variability. Research from groups across the world have tried to address this problem, but the huge variability in the sensors and applications under which they have been tested has inevitably resulted in mixed messages. From a UK clean air perspective, a thorough evaluation of the technologies, methodologies and applications in a purely UK context is urgently needed if we are to realise the potential of these devices.
This project will directly address this challenge through the delivery of a real-world open and traceable assessment of low-cost sensors and sensor networks, including calibration methods, and provide key information on the use of low-cost sensors for tackling air pollution in the UK. This will be achieved through three distinct work packages. The first will perform sensor device assessments in a variety of UK urban environments and cities, in order to cover the inherent variability in local legislation, emissions, weather, etc., that impact air pollution and sensor performance. This will directly challenge both the devices themselves and the calibration methodologies and algorithms used to retrieve useful air pollutant information. The second work package will demonstrate the potential of low-cost air pollution sensor networks to provide crucial high spatial and temporal resolution air pollution data. This will involve the assessment and development of cost effective traceable network calibration methodologies, which are essential if the full potential of these networks are to be realised. The final work package will enhance the value of low-cost sensor data for specific UK air quality challenges through the development of novel methods that use the unique strengths of these devices to extract new information on key pollutants. In particular this will focus on the air pollutant most responsible for loss of life in the UK, particulate matter, by extracting information on particulate matter type and source from low-cost sensor data. This will significantly enhance the use of low-cost sensors for exposure and policy intervention studies.
This timely project brings together a strong team of UK experts in the field of air pollution and the use of low-cost sensors for the study of air pollution, with expertise spanning a range of disciplines including chemistry, instrument development, engineering and data science. Ultimately this project will deliver crucial information on the application of low-cost sensors as tools to tackle air pollution in the UK and new methods to improve our understanding of the public exposure, health impacts and sources of key air pollutants. Through the involvement of a range of stakeholders, including UK policy makers, and a transparent and open access approach to data and methods, the project will provide solid advice on the future for these devices in a UK context.

Planned Impact

There is a significant level of interest in the potential for low-cost sensors to transform how measurements of air pollution are made, improving spatial resolution of measurements, possibly lowering costs and giving new insight into issues such as emissions and source apportionment as well as atmospheric concentrations. Indeed the activity is included within the Clean Air SPF in part because of an explicitly articulated Government need. The QUANT proposal is in response to this specific scientific and national need, and sits alongside other projects which when combined will deliver the overall SPF Clean Air programme goals. The outputs from QUANT are focused specifically on achieving impact relating to the use of low-cost sensors for air pollution monitoring and research, and we have identified three key tiers of impact that we believe can be achieved in this project within its lifetime:
i) Direct advice to UK Government, and related agencies, and users on the effective application and use of low-cost air pollution sensors. Our focus in QUANT will be on impact and advice to central Government (Defra, EA) with the expectation that advice can then form part of national top-down guidance that would be issued by Defra, cascading new insight on the technologies and methodologies to a much larger pool of users.
ii) An enhanced UK contribution to on-going international efforts to standardize data quality and testing related to low-cost sensors for air quality measurement. There are global efforts already underway to better understand how low-cost sensors may be used to improve air quality information. QUANT will use the most significant of these as pre-existing mechanisms to take our new results and place them in front of an international audience where they may go on to have very wide-ranging impacts.
iii) Impact of new insights into the use of low-cost sensors on other SPF programme activities and existing related projects, and the creation of extra scientific value in any future SPF programme on clean air.

Publications

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