Lancaster University working on ‘life-saving’ air pollution tracker in China

Researchers at Lancaster University are working with businesses and scientists in China to develop a real-time air pollution hotspot tracker.

The project will develop models to forecast air quality on a street-by-street basis in Guangzhou, China’s third largest city with a population of over 14 million people.

The project has been brought together minds from Lancaster, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Guangdong Environmental Monitoring Centre and has been jointly funded by Innovate UK, the Newton Fund and the province of Guangdong.

Businesses offering their support to the project include the UK start-up business NAQTS and the Chinese business partner Bojin Ltd.

Lancaster University’s Professor Kevin Jones, one of the world’s leading chemical pollution experts, said: ‘We have been working with CAS for many years on shared environmental research interests so we were in a good position to create connections between a UK small business with an interest in this area and people in China working on similar problems.

‘Air pollution monitoring in Guangzhou is already very sophisticated, much more so than in most of the UK. This is a very ambitious project, delivering such detailed data in real time, street by street is something quite special.’

The system combines conventional air quality monitoring with information such as real-time traffic flow, meteorological data, and high-resolution mobile air pollution mapping as well as other data sources.

It is hoped that the project will eventually be released as a publicly available app which citizens, businesses and environmental monitoring agencies can use to see where air pollution is high and minimise their exposure.

Ultimately, the partners also hope to develop an app which would enable members of the public to see street by street what is happening with local pollution levels, resulting in an empowered general public, that through behavioural change can minimise their exposures.

Douglas Booker, co-founder and CEO of NAQTS, said: ‘As air pollution hot-spots often change in space and time in our urban environments, so must our methods to accurately measure it.

‘We hope that what we learn in China will also be of benefit to people in polluted urban environments around the world, including the UK.’

The consortium now plans to bring their learning back to the UK to try to address the UK’s significant air quality issues and even save lives.

Last year, the World Health Organisation found that over more than 40 towns and cities in the UK are exceeding recommended air pollution limits, including Manchester, Swansea, London and Bristol.

Air pollution currently kills around 7 million people prematurely each year, a figure which recently led the WHO to call it the world’s greatest environmental threat to global health.

In related news, The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan last week launched the ‘world’s most advanced’ network of air quality monitors to help observe and improve the quality of London’s air.

The network, called Breathe London, will use cutting-edge fixed and mobile sensors to build up hyperlocal images of London’s air quality in real-time.