Photo by: Chris Hackett

Chris Hackett

Clean Air Tech and Pollution Reduction Post-COVID

By: Robin Fearon

One of the unintended positive consequences of the coronavirus pandemic is a reduction in air pollution.

July 07, 2020

Fossil fuel emissions have fallen drastically around the planet, though scientists also warn of a 'bounce back' once restrictions on movement cease. Yet glimpses from this clean air 'window' show a bright future for people, technology, and businesses working together on a solution.

Clear Skies in Major Cities



LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 12: A general view of the closed St Paul's Cathedral and Millennium Bridge on April 12, 2020 in London, England. Public Easter events have been cancelled across the country, with the government urging the public to respect lockdown measures by celebrating the holiday in their homes. Over 1.5 million people across the world have been infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus, with over 7,000 fatalities recorded in the United Kingdom. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Photo by: Andrew Redington

Andrew Redington

Satellite data clearly shows a decline of up to 30 percent in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) related to vehicle emissions and industrial activity in the southwest and the northeast United States. In some European cities – Paris, Rome, Madrid – NO2 dropped by 50 percent. That is good news for healthcare as prolonged exposure to polluted air is linked to health complications and deaths.

Long-term trends for air quality in rich countries like the US show huge drops in NO2 and other emissions like sulfur dioxide (SO2) since 1970, mirroring the switch to cleaner air policies. Globally, the story is less flattering and the World Health Organization says there are seven million premature deaths each year from pollution-related illnesses that damage the heart and lungs.

Clean Air Inside

HEPA filters remove at least 99.97% of particles that are 3 micrometres in diameter, and efficiently remove both larger and smaller particles.

Photo by: Sucharas wongpeth

Sucharas wongpeth

HEPA filters remove at least 99.97% of particles that are 3 micrometres in diameter, and efficiently remove both larger and smaller particles.

At home or in the office we can improve air quality by using an air purifier. Indoor purifiers containing HEPA air filters remove airborne pollutants including pollen, dust, gas, and viral particles. Add to the purifying effect with advice from NASA's Clean Air Study, which compiles a list of 28 common indoor plants that can naturally remove toxic agents such as benzene or formaldehyde from the air.

Researchers suggest placing at least one plant for every 100 square feet to tackle sick building syndrome caused by volatile organic compounds in paints and spores or mycotoxins from indoor molds. If we also do a deep clean of our homes and offices by cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, we can cut out many of the pollutants and microbes that pose a health risk.

Outdoors is another world. Companies like Airlens create a range of clean air technology to tackle pollution and viral transmission, including N-99 masks (that filter out 99 percent of particles) and in-car sanitizing filters. Face masks may well become a feature of everyday life, so finding a suitable filtering mask – N-95 and above say experts – that is comfortable and cleanable is the next step.

Corporate Social Responsibility



Photo by: Justin Paget

Justin Paget

Industries are also making a commitment to developing clean air technology and pushing for lower pollution levels. Planting trees may seem like a basic measure, but it is backed by industry to reduce NO2, SO2, and particulate matter. Projects such as the Trillion Tree Campaign coupled with recognizing the important role indigenous peoples play in stopping climate change, need universal support.

Technologies such as carbon capture storage and utilization (CCSU) that remove the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial fumes, or the atmosphere, are also crucial. CO2 can be captured and buried, or recycled for use in chemical products, constructional materials, and agricultural feeds.

Clean air technologies can take novel forms too. Volta Greentech is creating a seaweed-based cattle feed that reduces the amount of methane released into the atmosphere from cow burps – around four or five percent of total annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, research into gas storage led a team at Northwestern University to produce a metallic 'sponge' that can hold large volumes of hydrogen for use in the next generation of clean energy vehicles.

Pausing the economy may have enabled a shift in direction that allows us to tackle air pollution and the bigger issue of climate change. In the UK a letter from 200 companies and large investors has urged the government to restart the economy with a green recovery plan, prioritizing low carbon growth and the environment. The World Economic Forum has also published a five-step guide for a recovery that protects air quality post-coronavirus and saves lives.

Find out more about the Air Quality Index in your region at the government's Airnow website, or track air pollution in real-time across the planet at the World Air Quality Index.

Next Up

Getting the Benefits of Green Spaces through Virtual Nature

Forests and other natural spaces have proven benefits for our health and mental wellbeing, but getting to the great outdoors isn’t always easy.

Laser Cooked 3D-Printed Meals are the Future of Food

Whatever your tastes are it is highly unlikely that many of you are using 3D printers to create your favorite meals. Still, anyone interested in the future of food can find technologists printing out snacks, from steaks to cakes, at the push of a button. Now laser cooking has arrived and it is adding an entirely new layer of gourmet taste.

Get #Mindblown on National STEM/STEAM Day

Happy National STEM/STEAM Day! Here are fun and easy ways to inspire the next generation of budding innovators.

Emotional Robots: Machines that Recognize Human Feelings

Bridging the gap between simple automation and robots that can empathize and interact with humans naturally is a big challenge, but major progress has been made in the past few years.

Nanodiamond Sparkles as Miracle Material of Future Technology

Invisible to the naked eye and made from one of Earth’s most abundant elements, carbon, the wonder-material nanodiamond is an impressive creation. These tiny particles of diamond measure billionths of a meter in size, but their impact on future science is likely to be colossal.

Robots Imitate Life to Create Better Versions of Themselves

Robots have always imitated life. Social androids powered by artificial intelligence have now reached a level where they may be ready to work in shops, airports, and care homes. But an entirely new class of robots is being developed that can grow, evolve, and even reproduce.

Digital Twins are a Virtual Replica of Everything

Imagine a world where every car or plane, every patient, every building, or even entire cities have their own virtual, real-time computerized replica--a digital double.

Neuroprosthetic Sensory Devices are Reconnecting People to the World

Sensory loss has a profound effect on millions of people’s everyday lives. Sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste can all be affected, diminishing their experience of the world. But now, thanks to neuroprosthetic technology we can tap into nerve and brain function, and rewire these lost connections.

How a Lizard Loses Its Tail (and More Importantly, Keeps it Attached)

Thanks to a complex internal structure, lizards can shed a tail in a pinch… yet keep their tails attached when they need them.

Frozen Ice Sculptures Could Save a Himalayan Cold Desert

Ladakh, a Himalayan cold desert with stunning mountains and blue waters is no stranger to the impact of a changing climate. But could manmade glaciers save this landscape and its people?