The project will create an online, open source platform to share designs for low-cost air quality monitors developed by scientists at the University of York, in collaboration with academic institutions and agencies in West Africa. The project will also apply a tool, LEAP-IBC, developed by SEI to understand how emissions reduction strategies in the cities can help to reduce air pollution.

Partners in West Africa will be able to access technical information and diagrams via the new platform to help them build their own monitoring units. These units can then be installed at key locations to give accurate air quality readings in some of the region’s fastest expanding cities, where air pollution is a growing problem.

Joint initiative to tackle health crisis

The award from UK Research and Innovation, the Global Challenges Research Fund, will support development of the new platform. It will also support project work to clarify how the monitoring and modelling can be used in an integrated way to support and develop urban air quality policies.

“The GCRF award will help us translate this sustainable low-cost technology from the labs to the streets of West Africa where it has the potential to make a major contribution to tackling a growing health crisis.”

— Dr Chris Malley, Senior Research Fellow at SEI

The project is a joint initiative between SEI, the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories (WACL) and the Environment and Geography department at the University of York, including collaboration with partners in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo.

Dr Pete Edwards from WACL said that commercial air quality monitors are available, but they are expensive to run and maintain. Many are also prone to faults caused by fluctuating power supplies and have high energy demand, making them unsuitable for use in some developing countries.

“We’ve created a monitor made up of clusters of low-cost components that are widely available – but can be assembled in different ways to suit the conditions and requirements for cities in West Africa,” Dr Edwards said.

As well as sharing technical information and training guides, the platform will support an online community, sharing advice on air quality management among project partners.

People burning cables in waste dump to collect copper, Ghana.

A metal scrap worker burning insulated copper wires to collect copper in Ghana. Credit: Muntaka Chasant / Wikimedia Commons.

Reducing air pollution hot spots

Emissions from industry, cars and diesel-powered generators in expanding urban areas all contribute to air quality problems in West Africa. The resulting pollution causes major health problems and damages the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the region. Progress in tackling the problem has been hindered by a lack of reliable and robust monitoring data.

Prof. Lisa Emberson, Environment and Geography department at the University of York said, “this project will help to overcome these barriers by combining technical air pollution monitoring expertise with knowledge of urban air quality management, to target interventions to reduce pollution hot spots.”

SEI has been working with the environment ministries in Togo and Cote d’Ivoire and the Ghana Environment Protection Agency, along with several universities in the region, developing models to support national low-emission planning.

Dr Johan Kuylenstierna, SEI Research Leader, said: “By combining the ability to monitor and model air pollution, cities will be provided with the necessary tools to support strategy development that will reduce the large impacts on human health. This will be the first time these cities will have access to these affordable tools and equipment that they can develop and maintain themselves.”

Close collaboration with partners is West Africa

SEI’s LEAP-IBC (Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning Integrated Benefits Calculator) tool will help governments develop policies to reduce pollution. It will be applied to the cities of Lomé in Togo, Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire, and Kumasi in Ghana.

Dr Chris Malley said collaboration is key to the project: “Rather than imposing a solution we will continue to work closely with partners in West Africa to co-design technology and approaches that are suited to the requirements and conditions in the region.”

The project is funded as part of UKRI’s GCRF Innovation and Commercialisation Programme, developed to fast track promising research findings into real-world solutions. SEI and the University of York are among the 18 international partnerships to win a share of the total award, aimed to deliver scalable solutions for issues faced by low-income and middle-income countries.

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