Spotlight: AirOK Technologies

*Please note that the profile does not indicate endorsement of the products.* 

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AirOK team

AirOK was founded in 2015 by three IIT Madras graduates, who shared the vision of developing solutions that will address air pollution, which is a serious threat facing the world at large. Mr. Deekshith Vara Prasad who founded this company along with Pavan Reddy and Sravan Krishna worked on Air quality management project during his graduation at IIT Madras realised that the drastic deterioration in air quality has been driven by newer range of pollutants, which have changed over the years and the need of the hour is a solution that will counter all types of pollutants.

A short Q & A with Deekshith Vara Prasad, CEO of AirOK:

What is the product line up at AirOK? What’s unique about the products?

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AirOK product line include wide range of Air quality management solutions. We have developed first indigenously developed Indoor Air purifier with unique patented filter technology. We are also expanding our clean air solution to outdoor air purification by building Ambient air purification station. We are also working air purification inside kitchens and automobiles. AirOK also working on Air quality monitoring solutions using sensors for future smart cites in India.

Are the air purifiers tested under laboratory conditions for efficiency?

AirOK indoor air purifiers were tested both in laboratories and field conditions. It has third party certification (Shriram Institute for Industrial Research Laboratories and IIT Madaras) and product testimonials from various organisations.

How big is the team at AirOK? What are some of the skills that are key to the business model of the company?

Currently AirOK is an 18 member team. Being passionate toward solving the real problem to make India a safe place in term of air quality is what we looking for along with some technical knowledge in filtration technologies.

What are some of the challenges as a business in the air pollution domain?  

Major challenge would be the invisibility factor. There is not much awareness built on bad air quality, which makes us work on creating awareness on affects of bad air quality. There is always a skepticism involved in air purification due to this invisibility factor.

We believe in product speaking rather than we speaking, just leaving our demo units with the customer to feel the difference. Cost is also a very sensitive parameter. For other products, the customer is aware of what he is buying, but in this case, he needs to believe what sales guy says because no one can see air.

Also, there are many products in the market but hardly 2 to 3 Qualified R&D centers for research and testing.

What are your plans for the next year?

We are planning to expand globally with our current product, indoor air purifier and launch two other key innovative products into the market in next one year.

 

Find AirOK on Facebook | Twitter 

 

Spotlight: Dr. Lynn Mazzoleni

20180729_173820Dr. Mazzoleni is an Associate Professor of Chemistry and the Co-Director of the Chemical Advanced Resolution Methods (ChARM) Laboratory at Michigan Tech. Her primary research interests are focused on the identification of organic aerosol constituents from various atmospheric environments with a special interest in biomass combustion and aqueous phase chemistry. Dr. Mazzoleni’s research group studies atmospheric complex mixtures using mass spectrometry, liquid chromatography, and data science methods.

Website | Twitter

A short Q&A with Dr. Mazzoleni:

Welcome to India! What brings you here? Is this your first visit? 

Thanks for the warm welcome. My spouse, Claudio Mazzoleni and I, participated in three scientific activities and did some sightseeing over about 2.5 weeks. First, we participated in a GIAN sponsored workshop. The course was a lot of fun! We managed to have lots of time for informal interactions (tea breaks, lunches, and time before/after sessions) to get to know the students. We visited a local high school for a science symposium with kids. The kids asked lots of questions and seem to be inspired by the event/interaction. Finally, we participated in an International Symposium. These activities were organized by our host, Dr. Ravi Varma of NIT Calicut.

Yes, it was my first visit to India and I can say that the first few days were a bit overwhelming for me because of the culture shock. I knew that Indians drove on the left, but I didn’t know about their driving culture. 🙂 I also was surprised by the obvious lack of public infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, parking areas, drinking water, and other things that I’ve generally taken for granted in the US). Despite this, I saw that Indians are very resilient, humble, and compassionate. I can’t fully describe the emotion that this combination of observations stirs within me, but it’s overall very optimistic.

Can you tell us a little bit about the NIT-Calicut meeting? What was the objective?

The primary objective of both meetings was education/dissemination of research knowledge. The GIAN sponsored course included mainly Ph.D. students with some junior faculty/researchers from nearby and far away places. The International Symposium included several junior faculty and several other senior faculty speakers from other institutions. The actual turnout of expert lecturers was less than originally intended due to insufficient funds for supporting international travel, but several people participated despite this limitation. We had speakers and participants from China, Nepal, Israel, Canada, France, USA, and India.

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How was your personal experience vis-a-vis the air quality in India?

The monsoon was fairly intense during my stay in Kerala, so the air quality was very likely much better than usual. However, I observed a lot of high emitters on the road (tucks, auto rickshaws, buses, and other older vehicles). Fortunately, the standard practice of my hosts was to keep the car vent on recirculate, so it wasn’t too bad. I also observed trash burning beside the road and noticed a large smoke plume at some point, which I assumed was from trash burning. Perhaps the bigger surprise was the indoor air quality. I felt uncomfortable in some indoor spaces because of the mold/mildew.

Can you comment on the major research questions related to aerosol physical and chemical properties as it relates to India? Where is the research headed, and what are the major barriers?

This is a tough question to answer because I did notice a disconnect between the ‘state of the science’ in the US and Europe compared to India. The overall lack of measurements and detailed research in India make it hard to know exactly what to do. At first glance, one could say that the problems are similar to earlier problems in the US. But, upon second glance one realizes that the public infrastructure, state/federal laws, and cultural aspects all play important roles. I also thought quite a bit about the impact of anthropogenic emissions in terms of semi-volatile partitioning and secondary processes (gas phase and aqueous phase).

Overall, it seems to me that the most urgent questions pertain to the health effects of the emissions and secondary processes in India. I understood from informal conversations that the cultural practices and a lack of knowledge present unique challenges inhibiting air quality improvement. For example, Dr. Khare mentioned that people in Delhi who receive liquid fuels for cooking would rather sell it than use it. It seems they do not fully appreciate the health impacts associated with the solid fuel cooking practices. This is very difficult for an outsider like me to understand. In another example, a pair of students from Delhi Tech talked about the effect of a recent firecracker ban in Delhi on the air quality during the Diwali festival. The students are just starting and they have some promising insights, but because they haven’t been able to monitor the metals associated with the firecrackers and so they cannot eliminate the co-varying factors that contribute to the air quality during the Diwali. After some casual conversation, I learned that firecrackers are a relatively modern aspect of the ‘festival of light’. Traditionally, oil lamps were used to light up homes, etc. They also expressed concerns about the origin of the firecrackers (being sold despite the ban) and suggested that perhaps the new imported firecrackers contain more hazardous metals than the domestic ones (which are no longer in production due to the ban).

Do you have any advice for the early career researchers interested in working on air pollution in India?

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Yes, I have two primary suggestions. First, spend some quality time on public engagement activities. I think that the future of air quality in India depends on the public understanding of its importance. We visited a high school and talked with 50 students, several teachers, and several parents. It was a blast! My only regret is that I didn’t fully understand what I was getting myself into and it takes some practice to talk with young audiences. Second, build a network of colleagues, especially within India, but try to include foreign researchers in your network as well. You’re dealing with some tough and unique challenges that need attention. The network and resulting collaborations will only strengthen your efforts.

On a lighter note, you talked about your first auto-rickshaw ride. How was your experience?  

It was bumpy, but a lot of fun! One of the things that I especially found interesting about the rickshaws (and buses) was their custom embellishments. I love that people took the time to decorate these vehicles. They truly add to the charm of India.

 

 

Spotlight: NextGen Earth Labs

NextGen Earth Labs (NGEL) is a network of satellite remote sensing scientists and air quality experts. NGEL is working towards a clean air future by providing innovative research solutions to help policy makers, different stakeholders, and general public in making science based informed decisions on air quality. NGEL’s strength lies in integrating inputs from surface, satellite, and physical models into big data analytics framework to provide state of the art air quality trends and forecasts.

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Their approach is to measure, monitor, map, report and forecast air quality and make data available to all stakeholders in a web-based platform. NGEL’s visualization and analysis tools can serve as a decision support system for air quality. We rely on observations from multiple satellites across various space agencies such as NASA, NOAA, JAXA, ESA, ISRO. Our mission is to help create a sustainable clean air environment by addressing air quality challenges with the help of our data analysis tools.

Find NGEL on Twitter, Facebook or visit their website.

A short Q &A with Dr. Falguni Patadia, co-founder and CEO of NGEL:

How (and why) did you decide to work on air pollution?

We all deserve to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live a healthy life . However, as we know, the current state of air, water, and land has changed dramatically over the past few decades. More than 90% of the global population breathes air that does not meet World Health Organization air quality guidelines. With over 30+ years of combined experience of NGEL’s team, working on satellite remote sensing of atmospheric aerosols and the impact of aerosols on human health and climate, we have a moral responsibility to participate and address the current air quality situation. NGEL’s extensive satellite remote sensing experience provides an unique opportunity to deliver a real-world application of global high quality research-level datasets for monitoring air quality and its impacts.

What projects are you currently working on?

We have several projects lined-up in our pipeline for the next 2-3 years. The current operational air quality project on NGEL’s platform are:

1) Global hourly PM2.5 air quality forecasts with real-time validation using surface measurements operated by government monitors (link)

Forecasting of PM2.5 at city level is performed by integrating outputs from NASA’s global model, real-time satellite observations and historical ground measurements into a big data analytics system enabling us to provide global hourly forecasts for upto 10 days in advance. The online tool also provides an opportunity for the user to evaluate PM2.5 against real-time PM2.5 measurements. These forecasts are currently experimental and we are working towards comprehensive global validations, which will allow us to improve the PM2.5 forecasts and address any caveats that we may face as we move forward. The real-time surface measurements used for validation are obtained from OpenAQ.

2) 40 years of PM2.5 reanalysis extracted over 2000+ global cities (link)

Our second project provides monthly mean PM2.5 for over 2000+ cities globally for the past 38 years. This provides the community with a unique opportunity to analyze and download the long-term data records. These are reanalysis performed by NASA global model, which includes surface and satellite measurements of aerosols. These datasets can serve as a guideline in places where surface measurements are limited/not available. Given the limitations in these datasets, we strongly advise users to be cautious in interpreting long-term trends quantitatively.

There are multiple other projects in pipeline involving low-cost sensors, fires and dust monitoring. Currently, our main focus is to improve the quality of our global forecasts and provide comprehensive validation results to the community.

What are the two biggest challenges towards addressing air pollution in India from your personal and organizational experience?

Although the air pollution problem in India is not new, it was the recent WHO reports that prompted different agencies, including the government, to initiate awareness programs at different levels. However, the pace of action is slow and the biggest challenge is the lack of awareness among public and governments about the seriousness of the problem, specifically the immediate and long-term health and economical impacts.

The second challenge is the lack of long-term and sufficient number of high-quality ground-based measurements of various air pollutants across the country. This in-turn limits the opportunity to develop a comprehensive understanding of the impacts of air pollution on both health and economy.

Persistent awareness through different forums and by enabling science-based decision support tools such as from NGEL, we can not only educate and empower the citizens in making informed decisions but also assist governments in formulating strong policies to holistically address the air pollution problem. We at NGEL believe that good decision and policy making must be based on scientific evidences and that requires high quality data.

What comes next? How do you anticipate engaging with experts and public in India?

NGEL believes in a collaborative-science approach and we are actively engaging with air quality experts not only in India, but across the global air quality community. In India, we are collaborating with educational institutions and aim to involve state/national governments and NGO communities to take it further. Currently, we are enabling web-based solutions and in the coming months, we will be launching user-friendly solutions on mobile platforms. At the same time, our new upcoming citizen-science initiative to actively engage the general public in air quality monitoring will not only help us to improve our solutions, but also connect people standing up for the common cause.

Finally, we welcome all parties interested in using satellite observations for air quality applications to contact us and participate/collaborate/support our clean air future initiative. We look forward for your feedback and suggestions (http://nexgenearth.info/contact).

 

 

 

Spotlight: Ronak Sutaria

Ronak Sutaria has a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from NJIT, USA and a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Computer Engineering from University of Mumbai, India. He worked in the Silicon Valley for ~5 years, and then joined Mindtree Research Labs and led their Internet of Things (IoT) research.

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In 2015 and 2016, he led a sensor journalism project called #Breathe at IndiaSpend focused on air quality in India, and in 2017, he founded urbansciencesIN, formally registered as Respirer Living Sciences Pvt. Ltd. in Mumbai, India.

Ronak has worked in the research and development of IoT technologies involving Big Data platforms, Data Science and Machine Learning algorithms and low-cost Wireless Sensor Network based solutions. He has an active interest in citizen science projects and the use of open data and technology for governance, economics and democracy-focused initiatives.

Ronak is on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can also visit his website.

A short Q &A with Ronak:

What motivated you to work with low-cost sensors? 

I am primarily interested in working on citizen science initiatives which empower people with real-time data. The purpose of doing this is to enable citizens & communities to have a more informed dialogue with a view towards improving the urban quality of living. I got exposed to the underlying technologies that are involved in this back in 2004 when I took graduate level courses related to wireless sensor networks. Subsequently, I used to attend weekend talks on citizen science organized by some groups from Intel-Berkeley R&D. In a sense, the genesis of my interest in this field stemmed from some of the courses I took & the talks I attended in San Francisco & Berkeley (USA).

How was the experience working on the IndiaSpend #Breathe project? What were the challenges and successes?

I had built the first version of the air quality monitors around mid-2010. I had pitched a crude version of the prototype to Suzlon (who used to run p.a.l.s – a ‘pure air lovers society’. Subsequently, I pitched the idea to a few other clean tech companies). In December 2014, I met the founder of the Data Journalism initiative IndiaSpend & we ended up discussing this idea. I found the initial backing which I needed in IndiaSpend. Over the next one year, I started working on taking the one unit I had built to scale to upto 15 units. By the time we launched the IndiaSpend #Breathe project – we had managed to build about 50 units.

While there was a lot of excitement in the technology and the project we were building, the key concern & challenge I had when we were launching the project was that I felt that adequate evaluation & validation of the data had not been done. I had reached out to a few domain experts but we had not got any real dialogue or engagement going with any of them.

They key success of the project was the wide dissemination & traction we received from the journalism and other community-based organizations for this project. The wide adoption of this project was a clear indicator that the need for real-time data which helps improve the quality of living is immense.

How do you see sensor data playing a role in the air quality narrative in India?

Real-time sensor monitors when managed & operated by local citizen & community based organizations can lead to a more sustained engagement of people in the understanding of the air quality challenges facing our country. A quick anecdotal example is as follows: There is a community based environmental monitoring group in Chennai which has installed 10 Atmos monitors in different parts of the city. The core group actively manages the monitors using a device dashboard & tracks the data from those monitors on daily basis. After several months, when one of the locations started reporting very high levels, the core group immediately contacted the remote site to find out why the levels had started staying so high as compared to other sites. The remote group was very pleasantly surprised that someone was keeping a track of their air quality conditions and responded back by saying “Didi (sister), we thought you had forgotten us after installing the monitors !”. The remote monitored site then went on to explain some local event which over the past few days had led to the increased levels of pollution in that area.

Providing real-time sensor based monitoring can help bring communities closer and help each other better in fighting for cleaner air quality for the region.

Can you tell us about Atmos? What is the goal of the project and how do you see it fit within the air quality landscape in India?

The Atmos monitors are being designed with a view to build a scientifically validated & calibrated monitoring solution. One of the focus areas of the Atmos monitors is to have a more in-depth understanding of how the sensors perform over longer periods of time, how to calibrate them in real-time in the field and finally to preemptively detect sensor failure about a week or so in advance just before they are starting to fail. The eventual goal of the Atmos network is to have more scientific rigour in the research & development of the low-cost monitors being deployed in India.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on getting a better understanding of how to calibrate these low-cost air quality sensors. Besides the PM2.5 sensor based devices, I am also exploring how toxic gas sensor based monitoring can be implemented at scale. I am also a part of a team which has been funded by IUSSTF for building a low-powered (6LoWPAN/LoRa/NB-IoT) based wireless network for nationwide air quality monitoring (details ). [Read about early results from the sensor project here.]

Besides the air quality monitoring, I am also working on building policy research tools for greater transparency in our urban governance frameworks.

What is your message to others looking to start work with air pollution sensors?

For those starting to work with air pollution sensors, specifically those coming from a technical background, I would encourage them to get a strong understanding of how the sensors are performing in the field. Doing as many field studies as possible is immensely helpful. Having a thorough knowledge of the sensor electronics as well as the sensor calibration techniques is very valuable.

Besides getting the basics of the sensors right, it is also valuable to interact with a cross-section of stakeholders and to understand what are the requirements of each of those groups of people. In a sense, the age-old maxim holds true here too “Begin with the end in mind“. It is important to have some clarity on the kind of intervention that one is trying to make, especially those who are trying to build their own initiatives or ventures in this space.

Spotlight: #LetMeBreathe

#LetMeBreathe is an independent pollution storytelling platform, which tells stories that otherwise mainstream media won’t tell. It has no agenda or bias, it provides space to document and tell stories of living and surviving air pollution in India. It started out as a hashtag used by Delhiites while uploading their videologs documenting their days of high pollution but over time has quickly developed into a pan India movement.

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LMB’s Facebook and Twitter pages act as a catalogue of all the videos it has received from across India. LMB combines the ethics of mobile journalism, reach of social media with public engagement at its core. All the stories submitted are by ordinary folks or shot by our creators, using nothing but their mobile phones.

Influencers and creators range from Entrepreneurs in Delhi, Resident Welfare Association (RWA) leaders, Non-Profits, policy makers to people surviving pollution everyday in the ‘power hub of India’ Singrauli (Uttar Pradesh) and students in Gangtok (Sikkim). Some of these stories have already been picked up by big national media houses such as NDTV, regional publications such as North east today and UN Environment as well as citizen initiatives such as YouthKiAwaaz.

A short Q&A with Tamseel Hussain, who is leading the platform:

What was the motivation for this platform?

The platform started out as a hashtag used by Delhiites making their own vlogs to document high air pollution. In October 2017, when Delhi was covered in smog, we noticed that a lot of people were worried, But no one knew what to do, and there was no central place where people could tell their story.

Our team consists of mobile journalists, social media experts and public engagement junkies so crowdsourcing is key to what we do.

What has been your biggest learning after interactions with citizens/experts on air pollution?

The key aspect that we spent time on during the initial phase was to convince people that we are not agenda driven and these stories have no call to actions. They present facts and leave the decision making on the user. We realized that India today, especially millennials and Generation Z is moving faster towards doing rather than thinking and talking. By doing more, they are learning more and sharing more.We noticed that the narrative we see in mainstream media or in the civil society bubble is very different when it comes to ordinary citizens finding solutions and learning out of them. If one compares the climate change narrative of 2005 to the current pollution and environment narrative of 2018 – it’s a different world now. Another thing we noticed is that citizen action is at an all-time high, from RWAs to entrepreneurs people want to take action and seek solutions a faster pace.

Apart from visible catastrophes, social media and mobile phones have given more power to the average, it has created a better learning curve for people where they spend more time in debating and understanding the depth of pressing issues.

For example: Last week we asked two people (Abhimanyu and Anurag) who go plogging regularly in Delhi to go live on our facebook page and answer queries on plogging post the conversation, we noticed in their next clean up drive they had partnered with SDMC – where using a mobile phone, they asked tough questions to the SDMC representative on longer term solutions to waste instead of dumping the trash collected from one area going to another.

What’s next for the platform?

We want to create a web platform and ensure more stories reach out to people via search and simplifies storytelling for them. We will be conducting mobile storytelling workshops in more areas and accessing smaller towns since the way we tell stories breaks language barriers We will also be looking at engaging decision makers to enable an informed conversation between young people and people in power.

How can people get involved?

Simply follow or like any of our pages on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and reach out to us or just share your story. The power of #LetMeBreathe is that anyone and everyone doing anything on pollution can tell their story and reach out to more people.

We hope these stories help people make informed decisions when it comes to pollution.

 

Spotlight: Sriniwasa Prabhu N.

Sriniwasa Prabhu N. has a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from the College of Engineering Guindy, Anna University, Chennai and a Masters in Environmental Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, USA. For ~one year, he worked with the CAPS team in CMU on the low-cost multi-pollutant sensor package, RAMPs, and was part of the team that successfully deployed a network of 50 RAMPs in Pittsburgh city (USA). Since then, he has moved to India and started his own company to work in air quality science and technology. He plans to bring RAMPs or develop similar low-cost sensor package to aid CPCB and MoEF&CC to make India a leader in ambient air quality monitoring with the largest network in the world. In his free time, Srini loves to pack his camera and travel somewhere new.

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A short Q &A with Srini:

What is RAMP? 

RAMP is a multi-pollutant sensor package that monitors CO, CO2, NO, NO2, SO2, VOCs, O3 and it includes MetOne NPM or PurpleAir PM2.5 monitor. RAMP has been deployed in a large scale (~50 monitors) in Pittsburgh, USA. These sensors are calibrated against reference monitors for a period of more than 30 days. Both lab and field calibration experiments were conducted using simple models like MLR and complex Random Forest machine learning models. Results can be accessed here.

What is the purpose of the current deployment in India? How will the data be used? 

RAMPs were developed at Centre for Atmospheric Particle Studies (CAPS) in Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. I worked as a research assistant with the RAMPs team for almost two years. I have currently moved back to India and I am deploying RAMPs in as many as places I can, to gather data and show regulatory bodies/interested people about the possibility and validity/reliability of such low-cost multi-pollutant sensor packages. I strongly believe in developing countries like India, who can’t spare a lot of money for large ambient air quality monitoring networks, needs such low-cost sensors. RAMPs may not be as accurate as a reference grade monitors but it can measure pollutant concentration to be representative of the ambient concentration indicating their trend which is essential for policymakers and public awareness.

Are there plans for more monitors in India?

I am looking for support from corporate/regulatory bodies to come forward and set up a pilot high-resolution RAMP network in one of our metro cities. When people see what the RAMPs can do, I think we can bring about a revolution in AAQ monitoring in India.

Contact Srini via e-mail, or find him on Twitter.

Spotlight: CEEW

The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) is one of South Asia’s leading not-for-profit policy research institutions. The Council uses data, integrated analysis, and strategic outreach to explain – and change – the use, reuse, and misuse of resources. The Council addresses pressing global challenges through an integrated and internationally focused approach. It prides itself on the independence of its high-quality research, develops partnerships with public and private institutions, and engages with wider public. In 2018, CEEW once again featured extensively across nine categories in the ‘2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report’, including being ranked as South Asia’s top think tank (14th globally) with an annual operating budget of less than USD 5 million for the fifth year in a row.

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In 2016, CEEW was also ranked 2nd in India, 4th outside Europe and North America, and 20th globally out of 240 think tanks as per the ICCG Climate Think Tank’s standardised rankings. In 2013 and 2014, CEEW was rated as India’s top climate change think-tank as per the ICCG standardised rankings.

Here is a Q&A with Dr. Hem Dholakia, Senior Research Associate at CEEW:

Can you tell us a little bit about CEEW? 

In over seven years of operations, The Council has engaged in more than 180 research projects, published well over 110 peer-reviewed books, policy reports and papers, advised governments around the world over 400 times, engaged with industry to encourage investments in clean technologies and improve efficiency in resource use, promoted bilateral and multilateral initiatives between governments on more than 50 occasions, helped state governments with water and irrigation reforms, and organised more than 210 seminars and conferences.

The Council’s major projects on energy policy include: India’s largest energy access survey (ACCESS); the first independent assessment of India’s solar mission; the Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN) of hundreds of decentralised clean energy firms; India’s green industrial policy; the $125 million India-U.S. Joint Clean Energy R&D Centers; developing the strategy for and supporting activities related to the International Solar Alliance; modelling long-term energy scenarios; energy subsidies reform; energy storage technologies; India’s 2030 renewable energy roadmap; clean energy subsidies (for the Rio+20 Summit); clean energy innovations for rural economy; community energy; and renewable energy jobs, finance and skills.

The Council’s major projects on climate, environment and resource security include advising and contributing to climate negotiations (COP-23) in Bonn, especially on the formulating guidelines of the Paris Agreement rule-book; pathways for achieving INDCs and mid-century strategies for decarbonisation; assessing global climate risks; heat-health action plans for Indian cities; assessing India’s adaptation gap; low-carbon rural development; environmental clearances; modelling HFC emissions; business case for phasing down HFCs; assessing India’s critical minerals; geoengineering governance; climate finance; nuclear power and low-carbon pathways; electric rail transport; monitoring air quality; business case for energy efficiency and emissions reductions; India’s first report on global governance, submitted to the National Security Adviser; foreign policy implications for resource security; India’s power sector reforms; resource nexus, and strategic industries and technologies; and Maharashtra-Guangdong partnership on sustainability.

How and why did the organization decide to work on air pollution?

As an organisation, CEEW has been committed to using data, integrated analysis and strategic outreach to explain and change the way natural resources are used, re-used or misused. Our perspective is that air pollution has its roots in the way we produce and consume energy. Given CEEW’s extensive work in the renewable energy, energy access, industrial sustainability, low carbon pathways and the power sector, air pollution was a natural extension.

What projects are you currently working on?

In the framework of air pollution, we are working on four projects – first to understand the different policy portfolios that will help us achieve India’s ambient air quality standards; second to look at ways of promoting conservation agriculture among farmers in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, so that they stop burning paddy straw; third to test low-cost sensors and their use for pollution management; and fourth to look at the opportunities and challenges for implementation of the new thermal power plant standards.

Personally, for you, how do you view the air quality problem in India?

Personally, I see air pollution as the biggest environmental health challenge for the country. We struggle with a large burden of disease. Air pollution will likely exacerbate disease burdens due to respiratory as well as cardiovascular causes in India. Poor health has implications for economic growth. Air pollution has the potential to reduce productivity and impact India’s economic growth through the route of health. Reduced economic growth has implications for poverty alleviation. In a way, these issues are deeply interconnected.

What are the two biggest challenges towards addressing air pollution in India from your personal and organizational experience?

The first challenge is pooling financial resources to combat air pollution. Setting up monitoring systems, smog-alert systems, investing in clean energy, public transport etc. require resources. The costs of a transition to cleaner air are immense. We need a strategic approach to thinking about this, beyond the cess that is charged on coal.

The second challenge is moving from awareness to action. Several institutions are working to build awareness on the pollution issue, but what is missing are actions (across stakeholder groups) to help tackle the issue. Bridging this gap will help create sustained action to reduce pollution.

Find CEEW on social media: Facebook | Twitter

Community Spotlight: Kolkata Clean Air

Kolkata Clean Air (KCA) is a citizen’s and community led initiative with a vision to make Kolkata one of the most livable and climate friendly cities in the world. KCA is an umbrella campaign under which we have multiple environmental NGOs, citizens and experts joining forces to make Kolkata’s air cleaner. A short Q&A with KCA’s Ajay Mittal:

 

How did the project first start? What was the motivation? 
This project started with few of us coming together alarmed by the situation of Delhi during last winter and how Kolkata in-spite of being worse than Delhi was not getting any attention. This campaign is entirely born out of our individual health concerns, concern for our families and the citizens on Kolkata. We have reached a point where there is a big question if Kolkata is a safe city to live in. This needs to change and Kolkata Clean Air is an effort in that direction to make Kolkata most climate friendly and livable city.
We hear you are conducting a perception survey in Kolkata. Can you tell us more about that? 
We have launched a missed Call Campaign (9289 220 740) where a missed call by any citizen is followed by an SMS with a link to a Clean Air Pledge that also includes one question on how the citizens perceive the issue of air pollution in Kolkata. Along with this, we have formulated a questionnaire to conduct a perception survey with the population that have higher exposure to pollution due to their occupation e.g., taxi drivers, auto drivers, hawkers, traffic constables etc.
What are some of the challenges related to air quality in Kolkata? 

The air quality in Kolkata is largely an invisible problem with an unfolding health crisis. The data that we have observed from different monitoring station and our own monitoring devices indicate very high levels of PM2.5 and PM10 particles in Kolkata and various reports form researchers on the health of the citizens suggest one of every two people in Kolkata is affected by air pollution while 70 per cent of those spending six hours or more outdoors have unusual lung function results. This data in itself indicates how severe the the problem in Kolkata.

Kolkata’s challenge has a lot to do with the very high vehicular density due to very low road space (less than 6%), especially diesel vehicles which are said to be most polluting. Kolkata has earned itself two very infamous tags of being the “diesel capital” and the “lung cancer” capital of India. Along with the vehicular emission there is a rise in construction activities all across the city which adds to the problem.

What comes next for the project? Are there any plans to expand to other cities in West Bengal?  
Currently the entire focus is to build more awareness, mobilize more citizens especially the youth and most importantly engage all  stakeholders in developing a sustainability plan for the city of Kolkata.  However, we do not want to restrict ourselves to just the Kolkata Municipal Area but work on the entire Kolkata metropolitan area (Greater Kolkata).
KCA recently organized a press conference on air pollution and health with a panel of doctors. You can read more about the press event here.

Find Kolkata Clean Air on Twitter or Facebook or visit their website.

You can also send them an e-mail.  

Community Spotlight: Avril Unger

When Art Meets Air Pollution

In February 2018, Avril Unger, a performance artist collaborated with Jhatkaa, a Bengaluru-based advocacy and campaigning organization for her latest piece, an art installation on air pollution.  Read about it here and here.

An excerpt from the news piece:

You’d probably be perplexed at the sight of her, performance artist Avril Stormy Unger wearing an air pollution mask, clutching flowers in her hand, and sitting on an immense wooden chair alongside traffic-choked Old Madras Road. And seeing her again, the next day and the next. You’d become intrigued, curious enough to start asking questions – and that’s exactly the point.”

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Avril Unger is an interdisciplinary performance artist interested in disrupting social patterns while challenging the relationship between the audience and artist. Her recent works include public interventions around Bengaluru, site specific installations and collaborations with other artists.

A short Q&A with Avril:

What was your motivation for designing and executing this performance piece? 

 It started off as a part of another project, we were all asked to react to the city- my topic was fading wonder and since I come from a small town (Mangalore) when I came to the city it was filled with this magical wonder that soon faded. The first time I performed this piece I was surrounded by people who spent everyday in that area, the petrol station staff, the police etc. So it started becoming about them and the pollution that they need to withstand in order to do their jobs every single day.

Given the poor quality of the environment in India, how can artists and performers contribute towards this discourse?

I think artists should be active in increasing awareness of the issue, since this is something that is not given heed until it is too late. Small projects in their own communities and neighbourhoods will go a long way.

Are there any active collaborations between government, researchers and artists focusing on the issue of air quality?

 Not that I am aware of. Jhatkaa was the first time I performed with an organisation as until then I have been doing it on my own.

Find Avril on Twitter (@AvrilUnger).

Spotlight: CSTEP

The Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) is an Indian not-for-profit research organisation incorporated in 2005 u/s 25 of The Companies Act, 1956. As one of the largest think tanks in South-East Asia, its mission is to enrich policy-making with innovative approaches, using science and technology for a sustainable, secure and inclusive society. CSTEP has grown to become a multi-disciplinary policy research organisation in the areas of Energy, Infrastructure, Materials, Climate and Security Studies. Recently, they have started work on air pollution in Bengaluru, Karnataka and are in the process of developing new projects.

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Anirban Banerjee, Dr. Pratima Singh , and Arijit Chanda (from left)

A short Q and A with Dr. Pratima Singh, a research scientist CSTEP who is leading the AQ work:

Can you tell us what CSTEP is?

The Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, has recognised CSTEP as a Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. CSTEP has emerged to be one of India’s well-regarded think tanks, over the last ten years. Our approach to policy research is quantitative, objective and computation intensive. In a short period, CSTEP has established robust research groups in Energy and Climate Studies, Urban Infrastructure, Water Studies, Materials Research and Governance. In addition to this, CSTEP has built multi-disciplinary research capacity including economists, policy specialists, social scientists, IT experts, etc., to ensure that research incorporates social and economic perspectives to scientific solutions, in order to have meaningful outcomes and lasting impact.

CSTEP’s research aims at and explores science and technology enabled policy options, for inclusive and equitable economic growth. It looks at using newly emerging technologies for social and economic development. The Government of Karnataka has recognised CSTEP as a Technical Resource Institution.

How (and why) did the organization decide to work on air pollution?

Ambient air quality of Bangalore city has changed over the last few decades with increasing population and rapid growth in transportation, industry and commercial sectors. The number of activities related to construction, waste management and vehicular traffic has also increased. These changes are reflected in Bengaluru’s air quality levels. Recent Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) Air Quality (AQ) data shows that the city’s AQ index has exceeded the threshold limit at various locations in the city. While there is a need for stronger policy to combat air pollution, the first step is to estimate various sources of pollutants and their contribution to ambient AQ.

Studying air pollution is especially important considering that the last comprehensive air pollution study for Bengaluru was in 2008. This has resulted in a knowledge gap which, in turn, is reflected in the inadequate measures put in place to tackle the city’s air pollution. CSTEP, through this study, hopes to bridge this gap by building an up-to-date, high resolution emission inventory for the city, developing AQ modelling and doing relevant policy analysis.

Measuring air pollution levels is the first step towards designing effective policy interventions at the city, state and national levels, towards achieving “Clean Air for All”. A comprehensive air pollution measurement study is crucial for formulating laws and policies to reduce air pollution levels. It will also help in planning for a future that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals that India has committed to.

We hear you are running a pilot project in Bengaluru. What does this project focus on?

The focus of the pilot project is on mobile monitoring for PM2.5, PM10, black carbon (BC), and particle count of the pollutant in a 5 sq. km area of Bangalore city. Using air quality measuring instruments (DustTrak, Aethalometer, Condensation Particle Counter (CPC)) in chosen areas of the city, mobile measurements will be taken during peak and off-peak hours, weekdays and weekends and from different modes of transportation (auto rickshaw, bike and car). This pilot study will also help us to examine the air quality, and assess exposure levels.

In order to understand dispersion of pollutants in the city, we will also be using dispersion models (computational simulation of how air pollutants disperse in the ambient atmosphere). The models will also allow us to estimate the trans-boundary pollution share.

Personally, how do you view the air quality in Delhi vs. Bengaluru?

Air quality levels in Bangalore city have not reached critical levels, yet. However, considering the city’s growth in the last decade, scientific, evidence-based policy measures are required to reduce the level of pollution in the city. Taking into consideration that Bangalore’s public transport system is not as widespread as the capital city’s, it is only a matter of time before Bangalore’s air quality levels deteriorate.

What is the biggest challenge in the field from your perspective?

The most pressing challenge is the lack of data from continuous monitoring stations. This has resulted in lack of sufficient evidence, and in turn formulation of adequate policies for reducing air pollution. Hence, there is a need to improve data generation and evidence-based analysis for making a change in our air quality.

Lack of capacity and resources for air pollution studies at the institutional level (measurement and modelling) is also a pressing challenge hindering air quality studies. This calls for multi-sectoral collaborations at different levels (research and science, policy and governance, industries and local groups). This will not only enable filling of data gaps, but will also ensure that the public are well aware of and contribute to policy measures.

Public awareness is another missing component that is crucial to influencing changes in the present air pollution scenario. We need to educate the residents and promote measures that can reduce air pollution. This will help to change people’s perspective and behavioural patterns when it comes to air pollution. These are small, but important steps that can address the bigger challenge of air pollution.

Is CSTEP likely to hire air quality professionals in the near future? 

Yes!