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How Internet of Things (IoT) Improving Air Quality?

ABHINAV-GUPTAIndia remains the 5th most polluted country in the world. Every day, new studies are expressing concern about the severe health effects of air pollution on our bodies, yet we don’t seem to be treating the matter like the emergency it is. From babies being born with black spots on the lungs to the rise in air-borne diseases like Covid, we’re currently seeing an air pollution crisis and must start paying more attention to keeping our indoor air quality clean and healthy.

According to the World Air Quality Report released by IQAir, a Swiss firm, early this year, the air pollution levels in India worsened in 2021, ending a three-year trend of improving air quality. India is the fifth most polluted country among 117 countries, regions and territories around the world, assessed. The country’s annual average PM2.5 levels reached 58.1 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) in 2021, returning to pre-quarantine concentrations measured in 2019. The WHO recommends that average annual readings of small and hazardous airborne particles known as PM2.5 should be no more than 5 micrograms per cubic metre after changing its guidelines in 2021.

India and Pakistan generally experience the worst air quality in the Asia Pacific region, with 48 per cent and 67 per cent respectively of cities with PM2.5 concentrations greater than ten times the 2021 WHO air quality guideline level, stated the report.

India has been home to 11 of the 15 most polluted cities in Central and South Asia in 2021. No cities in India met the WHO air quality guideline of 5 µg/m3. In fact, in 2021, 48 per cent of India’s cities exceeded 50 µg/m3, or more than 10 times the WHO guideline.

In India, if we look at the annual average of PM2.5, all six metro cities except Chennai saw a rise in air pollution levels last year. Delhi was followed by Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai.

Steps to Improve the Air Quality

Increasingly, there is an urgency from the ecosystem to require manufacturers to integrate connected objects for improved indoor air quality. Sensors are now less expensive, allowing them to be easily integrated into air quality maintenance equipment. In places where the IoT is used, the results have been very satisfactory. The economic losses related to sick leave have been considerably reduced. It was also found that employee productivity was higher when the air quality inside a building was better. Even life expectancy is better in environments where connected objects are used to control air quality. Solutions applied include sensors that incorporate ventilation controls that react when unacceptable air  quality thresholds are reached. The device can also control the temperature to promote better air quality. Very precise control can even be achieved by learning through sophisticated algorithms.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has already made our lives easier through smartphones, smart TVs and smart security systems. Now it is being used to improve air quality.

The growing need for cost-effective and data-accurate solutions for air pollution has grown over the years, making air sensors and air-testing easier for homes as well as entire cities. Specially configured sensors are being used in India to monitor ambient air for particulate matter. The data collected is turned into a heat map showing varying air quality levels over a period of time. This information gives municipalities a clear view of problematic areas, and helps enforce emission restrictions and optimise infrastructure.

In 2018, Chicago was ranked the 22nd most polluted city in the US. To tackle air pollution, Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago in partnership with the City of Chicago, developed a new IoT project called “array of things”. The project included the installation of 200 nodes to collect real-time data about the city’s environment including air quality, climate and traffic. The collected data was to be used by various groups such as engineers, scientists and policymakers who can work together to find solutions for improving air quality.

Ambient air pollution is usually due to traffic emissions, industrial emissions, farm fires and weather changes. As individuals, we can help by making conscious decisions to reduce our carbon footprint by using public transport, carpooling, following clean construction guidelines, avoiding burning leaves or garbage and conserving energy.

It is a common notion that air pollution can be avoided by staying at home. Unfortunately, the air in most homes in India is a lot worse than the air outside. Smoke from indoor smoking, incense burning; oil fumes from frying, grilling; gases expended from cooking stove; aerosol sprays in the form of air fresheners, sanitisers, deodorants; dust and outdoor pollution that seeps into our homes, all these add to the air we breathe indoors. But simple lifestyle changes can improve the air quality in our homes:

  • Monitoring indoor air quality,
  • Facilitating air circulation/ventilation,
  • Avoiding indoor tobacco smoking,
  • Use of eco-friendly products for cleaning,
  • Energy-efficient appliances,
  • Natural gas for cooking stoves
  • High smoke point oils for cooking,
  • Wet cleaning instead of dusting, brooming,
  • Avoiding aerosol sprays in homes.

A lot of homes are using air purifiers these days without testing their indoor air quality. This non-informed decision can sometimes make the problem bigger. Air purifiers work best in closed spaces, but sometimes closed spaces cause accumulation of Carbon Dioxide due to human metabolism and the use of electric appliances. High CO2 levels can cause a variety of sickness symptoms including headaches, nausea and inability to focus. Also, air purifiers can do their job well if they are maintained well. Often buyers forget to clean or change the air filters, which does not just stop the process of air cleaning but reverses it.

The key benefits and future trends for the Air monitoring system

IoT is an advanced technology that impacts industrial growth in a significant way. When added to environmental assets, it simplifies the overall processing and provides improved ambience through real-time monitoring of the surroundings.

The IoT-based air pollution monitoring system is created using sensors and microcontrollers that gathers all the relevant data regarding air quality. Users can access all the related information in real-time. This sensor-based technology benefits occupants in a number of ways:

  1. Effective air monitoring: Installing advanced sensors in the required locations of a building helps in detecting the presence of particulate matter or pollutants in the air. They work automatically and send notifications on smartphones at once. Based on the gathered information, facility managers can analyse the situation, monitor the air quality, and act accordingly. With an IoT-based air quality monitoring system, they will never miss out on anything and keep the surroundings fresh all the time.
  2. Detection of toxic gases: The presence of toxic gases in an environment can lead to disastrous consequences and severely impact the health of the occupants. IoT-powered air quality monitoring system is an advanced technology that detects these toxic gases within the premises quickly. Building owners get complete control over the IoT solution that allows them to take appropriate actions against the discrepancies happening because of air quality. In this way, the chances of gas explosions, fire hazards, and other naturally occurring calamities are automatically reduced. What’s the plus point? Facilities can also reduce operational costs and ensure preventive maintenance of assets.
  3. Temperature and humidity measurement: Temperature monitoring in a building plays a vital role in stabilising indoor air quality. It helps authorities to maintain an ideal room temperature and proper ambience under certain environmental conditions. The IoT-powered solution gives rise to this technology. With temperature and humidity monitoring, facilities can maintain a favourable environment in a building. This technology is specifically useful in the mining industries where maintaining an appropriate level of oxygen is necessary. The air quality monitoring system keeps employees safe in mining industries by detecting the decreasing oxygen levels and allowing them to evacuate the premises as soon as possible.
  4. Ensures better environmental conditions: The quality of life depends on the quality of the air. Remote monitoring IoT systems ensure better air quality, reduce cost, increase coverage, and provide more flexibility to occupants. It results in better environmental conditions for humans to reside in.
  5. Better human health: IoT-powered solutions are capable enough to monitor the presence of pollutants that reduces the chances of any health issues by maintaining a moderate ambience or as required. It even provides better services to its customers and helps in the formation of a smart building. Facilities can create a positive impact on human health by eliminating unwanted air pollutants and particulate matter with the application of this advanced technology.
  6. Meet air quality standards: The air quality index provides building managers with timely and easy-to-understand information on local air quality. It also gives insights into air pollution levels used by EPA and other agencies. IoT-based air quality monitoring systems help in determining if an area is meeting the air quality standards devised by CPCB, WHO, or not.

For years, air monitoring has been associated with government agencies working for better air quality. But now that the technology is more budget-friendly and accessible, air sensors and air testing has become a common household practice. Even offices are using IoT based air management systems for a healthier environment for their employees and to improve their green building ratings.

ActiveBuilding role on helping to improve the environmental condition

ActiveBuildings has been working with homes and offices for years now but we saw an increase in awareness especially after Covid-19 when more people started asking about air quality tests and air cleaners. ActiveBuildings created Bubble PAPR, a unique, personal protective gear for frontline workers during COVID with a grant of 45 lakhs from CAWACH. We also deployed 120 low-cost air cleaners to healthcare spaces and local schools by raising funds through a GoFundMe campaign, and donated our Bubble Air Cleaners for maternity dispensaries in association with the Naata Foundation to help protect expecting mothers from air-borne diseases. Our efforts received great appreciation after which we launched our dedicated communities division – Sarva.

Sarva has been working for overlooked communities in Maharashtra and Karnataka in association with Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin’s Balvi Fund. Under this project, Sarva is providing 10,000 air cleaners and 5,000 air sensors to various government schools and medical facilities. Also, the designs for our air cleaning technology have been put up on Sarva’s open-source platform, to help anyone who wants to build their own purifiers.

Sarva has also signed an MoU with DRIIV Foundation in Delhi, and is providing free-of-cost air sensors and air cleaners to schools based in NCR under the pilot phase of the project.

The concept of air quality monitoring

Air is a mixture of several components. In order to solve the air quality concerns of various indoor spaces,  the first step of the process is to carry out an air quality test and learn its exact composition. A proper diagnosis is always the first step towards treatment, in that regard the monitoring should be prioritised before going ahead and investing in long-term solutions.

After the report is examined, depending upon the customers’ requirements we tailor and offer varied solutions based on their concerns.

The commercialization of air purifiers has made them a common appliance for urban homes. But air purifiers are not the universal solution to all air quality concerns. Most homes in India face a lack of ventilation, high CO2 levels and humidity problems, none of which is fixable with air purifiers. Air sensors and air quality tests help identify the specific problems in a home and suggest whether the place needs a purifier, a dehumidifier or maybe just an open window.

Air quality tests are a low-cost, zero-effort and quick means to analyse the air you breathe indoors. These quick evaluations help you make the right decision about how to make the air healthier and cleaner for yourself and your family.

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Nitisha Dubey

I am a Journalist with a post graduate degree in Journalism & Mass Communication. I love reading non-fiction books, exploring different destinations and varieties of cuisines. Biographies and historical movies are few favourites.

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