Quantification of Utility of Atmospheric Network Technologies (QUANT)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


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

See lead RO JeS
Description This project highlights the current capability of low-cost sensors in source identification and differentiation using clustering approaches. Future directions towards particulate matter source apportionment using low cost optical particle counters are highlighted.
Exploitation Route Commercialization of the algorithms could be attempted.

Regulatory monitoring and source apportionment of atmospheric pollutants can now be improved.
Sectors Chemicals,Environment

Description This study highlights the current capability of low-cost sensors in source identification and differentiation using clustering approaches. Future directions towards particulate matter source apportionment using low cost OPCs are highlighted.
Sector Creative Economy,Environment,Healthcare
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description EPRSC Internal (University of Birmingham) Impact Accelerator Account
Amount £36,388 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2021 
End 06/2022
Title Research data supporting "Assessing the sources of particles at an urban background site using both regulatory instruments and low-cost sensors - A comparative study" 
Description Comma separated spreadsheet containing OPC and SMPS particle size distributions, chemical composition data from both low-cost and regulatory grade instruments and meteorological data for a period of about 1.5 month (January - March 2020) from the Birmingham University Air Quality supersite. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Provides data to be able to reproduce the findings in the associated paper. 
URL http://edata.bham.ac.uk/584/