SURVIVAL PLAN: Hi-tech Sheffield University vans leading the drive to 'see' air pollution

If polluted air was green there would be outrage - and action.

Friday, 25th October 2019, 11:38 am
Steve Jubb, technical manager at the Urban Flows Observatory, with the MOBIUS van.

That’s what happened in the 1950s, when ‘pea souper’ smogs killed thousands and led to the Clean Air Act.We face similar problems today, only the blight is invisible: carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and particles so small they pass through the lungs and into the bloodstream.

Measuring them requires hi-tech, super-sensitive instruments, such as those on MOBIUS, a ‘mobile urban sensing’ van run by The University of Sheffield’s Urban Flows Observatory.

Dr Danielle Densley Tingley and Dr Gregory Myers with the new MARVEL scanning vehicle.

It drives around the city sniffing out filthy air, producing data that can help council traffic managers keep cars moving, highlight pollution near schools, help individuals decide when and whether to travel and encourage everyone to switch to cleaner transport.

Technical manager Steve Jubb, said: “If we can get people to see these unseen things I think we can make a difference to air quality.”

But MOBIUS is not alone in the quest to see the invisible, for it has just been joined by MARVEL.The Observatory’s new van is on a mission to map and measure every building in Sheffield to help target environmental action on a ‘city scale’.

Packed with multi-spectral cameras, sensors and lasers, it is believed to be a world first, capable of scanning up to 40,000 buildings in a day while gathering information on building materials, reflectivity and heat loss.

It will help owners - from councils to individuals - identify priority targets for insulation. Buildings are responsible for approximately 35 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

It can also be used to drive up re-use by matching demolitions with construction projects.MARVEL was designed and developed by postdoctoral research associate Dr Gregory Meyers and overseen by architectural engineering lecturer Dr Danielle Densley Tingley, a director of the Urban Flows Observatory.

She said: “I’ve been working in this space for 10 years. It’s gone from no one talking about the carbon impacts of buildings, particularly from materials, to, in the last year, the construction sector and universities signing up to a climate emergency and saying we need rapid action.

“Universities and industry are developing the technology and skills needed to create change, with this, I want to see policy and legislation to help us get to net carbon zero by 2050. That’s the biggest challenge, but working together I think we can do it.”