Will the air quality in our cities improve significantly in the future?

Pioneering ‘Lungs of the City’ project nears completion of test phase
Manufacturing & Process
5 March 2018

At the end of 2017, the long-awaited ‘Lungs of the City’ project was launched in Eindhoven (the Netherlands). The project involves filtering fine dust out of the air by means of an intelligent air purification system. The aim is to significantly improve the air quality in our cities.

The test bed consists of thirty air purifiers located at the exit of an underground car park in the city centre. The research is being led by Professor of Building Physics Bert Blocken of Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). Other parties involved are the Dutch eco-innovation company ENS Urban, the municipality of Eindhoven and Air Liquide. 

Two of the primary aims are to provide a large-scale solution to the increasing air pollution in urban areas and bring the fine dust problem to the attention of the general public.

The primary cause of premature death by 2050

Fine dust poses serious health risks. Because the particles are too small to be filtered by the respiratory system, they are able to enter the bloodstream.

This allows them to damage various organs within the body. Fine dust leads, among other things, to a greater risk of infarction and increases the chance of dementia. According to the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), air pollution – of which fine dust is an important component – will become the main cause of premature death by 2050.

Practical advantages

“One of the principal advantages of this new technology is that the appliances consume minimal amounts of electricity,” explains Diederick Luijten, Air Liquide’s Vice President for Industrial Merchants in North-West Europe. “This is in stark contrast to traditional filter systems, which require much more energy because the air has to be blown through the filter system. The new system has another crucial advantage: there is no need to build new infrastructure. In this test case, the ‘lungs’ were set up at the exit of a car park, but the technology can just as easily be used at other locations such as tunnels, train and bus stations, viaducts, and so on.”

The technology

The ‘Aufero’ works on the basis of positive ionisation, but in such a way that no ozone is released at any time. In addition, the device is easy to maintain, since it is not necessary to replace filters.

“A fan draws in polluted air, after which the fine and ultra-fine particles in the air current are positively charged. As a result, the particles are attracted by a negatively charged plate located inside the unit. As soon as the particles touch the plate, they are held in place and adhere to each other, effectively being transformed into coarse dust. This technique prevents fine particles from re-entering the air when the plate is cleaned.”

Air Liquide’s ‘Clean Air’ programme

“‘Clean Air’ is one of the main areas managed by the I-Lab, Air Liquide’s innovation laboratory. The I-Lab specifically went in search of smart, marketable solutions that could improve air quality. Which is how we ended up at ENS Urban. Air Liquide is supporting the project with operational expertise in the installation of equipment and know-how in air-quality improvement.”

“The ‘Lungs of the City’ project is still in a ‘proof of concept’ phase, in which we want to demonstrate that the technology works as well in real conditions as in a lab environment. In the next phase we’ll look at the financing model and look for appropriate additional locations, perhaps even involving some far beyond the borders of the Benelux. Following on from this, we will also investigate whether it is possible to locally collect data on the presence of fine dust in cities. A mobile application would be ideal for this.”

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