A Self-Sustainable Technology to Monitor Rising Levels of Air Pollution
Innovative sensors have been specially designed to withstand Qatar’s harsh climate
An assessment of 3,000 cities in 2018 revealed that a staggering 64% of cities had pollution levels higher than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety guidelines. What is more alarming is that every city in the Middle East region exceeded the levels of safe air quality. Impactful action to improve air quality cannot be delayed as deteriorating air quality is now the biggest environmental risk for early death, and according to the WHO, its hazardous effects on human health are killing seven million people a year.
Hence, there is a pressing need for efficient and sustainable regulatory measures for monitoring air quality to accelerate the development of actionable solutions for them. Responding to this need, a team of researchers from Qatar University has innovated a self-powered, efficient, self-sustaining, and cost-effective device to monitor indoor and outdoor air quality.
Led by Dr. Farid Touati, professor at QU, the project has been made possible through Qatar National Research Fund’s National Priorities Research Program (NPRP6-203-2-086). With their project, dubbed the ‘QU Solution’, Dr. Touati and his team aimed to solve two main challenges that exist in current technologies for air quality monitoring.
Firstly, the sensors in use need hundreds or even thousands of batteries on a regular basis to operate, which understandably leads to high operational and maintenance costs, and presents logistical challenges when shifting these sensors to another location. Secondly, these expensive sensors allow only short-term and localized coverage rather than a more expansive and long duration monitoring, which affects the reliability of the data collected and fails to provide a more conclusive picture of the air quality.
To solve these challenges, the researchers built a parametric sensor node, which does not need power from a battery source and is able to operate autonomously by powering itself from energy sources present in the nearby environment. This sensor can monitor levels of harmful air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and chlorine in addition to the temperature, humidity, and air pressure in the environment.
Moreover, the air quality sensor has been designed to be modular and scalable, which enables it to be modified easily, and allows it to connect with several networked devices, making possible widespread coverage and data collection. Another challenge that the research team has successfully addressed is to increase the robustness of the QU Solution to ensure its seamless operation in the extreme and harsh environment and climate of Qatar and the region.
Due to its impressive and highly impactful outcomes, the technology has received two US patents and an increasing commercialization interest from global organizations active in environmental monitoring. This project demonstrates the value of embracing the opportunities present in the challenges we face and address them, to build cutting-edge and innovative solutions which can go a long way in improving the health and lifestyles of people not only in Qatar but around the world.