Greg Lewis on the Northern Air Quality News Conference & the Future of Air Quality Technology

Attending the Northern Air Quality News Conference

conference

Senior Business Development Manager, Dave Green and I took a trip up to Manchester to attend the 2022 Northern Air Quality News Conference where we had the chance to exhibit our air quality technologies, network with attendees, and listen to talks from various professionals in the air quality and public health fields.


We had our complete product suite on show, including the original black Zephyr®, the recently announced white Zephyr®, the MyAir® web application and our leading air quality modelling suite, MappAir®. We also presented mapped annual average data for the UK showing average concentrations of air pollution from 2014 to 2019 for various schools, hospitals, and other locations. We also showed off our fancy new packaging that we’re using to send Zephyrs to rental customers!


After getting the stand ready and settling in for an eventful day, we spoke to delegates attending the conference and were delighted to establish some new connections. We also had conversations with some of the other exhibitors, including our UK distributors of the Zephyr® air quality monitor, Enviro Technology and Yunex Traffic - it was great to see that the Zephyr® had a bigger presence at the conference this year.

Hearing from Thought Leaders in the Field



Throughout the day, Dave and I listened to thought-provoking talks from some of the experts in the field. It was fascinating to hear from Asthma & Lung UK’s Sarah Woolnough, who humanised air pollution by explaining how asthma sufferers are waking up every day and fighting to breathe as a result of ambient air pollution. For those of us who don’t have asthma, we should consider how lucky we are to be able to breathe easily and use this to think more about how our behaviours are affecting vulnerable individuals and what we can do to mitigate against this.


From UK100, a network of local government leaders, we heard from Polly Billington who delivered an impactful presentation about Clean Air Net Zero (CANZ) where she discussed how we must align net zero targets and what they recommend for action. This includes a clearer ambition and new narrative for achieving clean air which will require more funding, better and more joined up planning initiatives to provide local authorities with the tools needed and support from local national regulatory frameworks. I wholeheartedly agree.


What I Learnt from the Conference


Throughout the conference it was fascinating to see such a diverse conversation about air pollution, as focus moves towards how the UK reaches a point of compliance, in light of the new WHO guideline limits regarding fine particulate matter (PM2.5). It was also evident from many of the conversations that there are varied opinions on the UK’s new environmental bill and the limits considered within it. However, the overriding opinion was that more needs to be done by the UK government to help us align with the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for PM2.5.


What was also more openly talked about was that air quality and the climate are intrinsically linked. Improving air quality for all also results in reducing the impact of climate change on society, and vice versa. Most of the public are unaware of the dangers of air pollution, and we have to raise awareness by making information publicly accessible and actionable. We need ongoing support, and funding to empower decisions towards a cleaner and safe environment. With this, we can implement large-scale changes in every day behaviour that is critical for better and safer air quality and make the phasing out of the most polluting emissions sources a seamless transition.


This got me thinking, what could the future of air quality technology hold?


Current Trends in the Air Quality Market


zephyr air quality monitor

Currently, the air quality technology market is mostly hardware led. There are thousands of air pollution monitors across the world which are measuring concentrations of particulates and gases at areas of interest. Data and air quality modelling solutions are also helping us visualise air pollution at a more regional scale which allows us to see how pollution moves and disperses around built-up areas. This in turn allow us to identify who is being affected and where, meaning interventions can be more targeted, increasing chances of success.


Sensing and modelling technologies are also being used in ways to fully understand the impacts of high-ranking emitters, such as transport. For example, integrating air quality data into transport systems are being used to identify how vehicles are affecting air quality across busy road networks and understand how air pollution is dispersing across the wider area.


With decarbonisation and targets for zero emissions by 2050 underway, the air quality market is providing the means for aligning with such agendas. The likes of construction companies, schools and local authorities are monitoring baseline air quality levels to understand how typical day to day activity is affecting personal exposure of the public, staff, or pupils. With this, authorities and companies looking to decarbonise can find methods to reach net zero emissions through trials of various mitigation strategies.


We have also seen air quality technology used as part of the auditing process for granting carbon offset projects with carbon credits. These projects, such as the Indian Wind Power project, must quantifiably and repeatedly emit less greenhouse gases than the alternative option to receive Carbon Credits, of which one is awarded for every one metric tonne of GHG is reduced.


There also appears to be an increase in the popularity of air quality purification instruments which are helping to clean indoor air through various filtration methods to filter pollutants from the air. These are installed in offices, schools, and sometimes homes to ensure the air that being inhaled is safe. Air purification technology will likely be highly beneficial throughout the decarbonisation journey and still may require air quality monitoring as an evidence base for measuring the effectiveness of their filtration capabilities, in order to demonstrate an improvement to the air we breathe.


My Predictions for the Future of Air Quality Technology


Air quality monitoring, modelling and analytics is going to continue to emerge at a global scale and become more evident in our everyday life as our awareness to the problem and the general climate agenda grows. As we raise awareness about air quality and people become more knowledgeable about its dangers, the demand for tailored, accessible information that’s personal to us will accelerate as we seek to find ways to reduce our own exposure to harmful pollutants and emission sources. This might be through the use of publicly accessible air pollution portals, mobile applications, or reports for the general public to receive about local air quality and guidance about how they can help to drive community-based change.


As we creep towards the deadline of net zero emissions by 2050, I’d also predict that we will start to see more air quality technologies used at a global scale to enable an even more detailed understanding of air pollution and how it affects the local and regional climate. With monitoring networks compromising of high numbers of data points, this would allow governments and decision makers to be better informed about how to successfully reach zero emissions and use this to introduce policies for clean air.


Although technology is important for understanding and improving air quality, there are also a lot of immediate changes we can make to our everyday lives that we should consider as we go about our daily lives– an abundance of technology isn’t the only option. For example, with accessible and affordable public transport, we can get people into trains or buses (hopefully of which one day all will be electric) that reduce the number of polluting vehicles on the road. We can also get out of our cars, even for just 1 day a week, and walk, cycle or scoot to school or work.


Clean air is critical for the health and safety of people around the world, be it in the present and in the future. We have to understand the extent of unsafe air quality to allow us to successfully mitigate against dangerous levels, and with the right support and effective tools we can meet the WHO’s recommended targets for air pollution – especially for PM2.5 – and ensure that future generations can live and breathe in a safer world.


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