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Pollution-control takes its cue from a garden sprinkler

08 January 2014

Researcher poses a new idea to cut back on air pollution: spray water into the atmosphere from sprinklers atop tall buildings and towers.

The method - somewhat akin to watering a garden - is the brainchild of Shaocai Yu of Zhejiang University in China, and North Carolina State University in the US. In an article published in Springer’s journal Environmental Chemistry Letters, Yu suggests this approach could help curb the severe air pollution and heavy haze that is experienced in many Chinese cities, as well as others around the world.

Over the past 30 years the megacities of China have suffered from air pollution because of the nation’s decades-long burst of economic and industrial growth. Moreover, air pollution of this nature is not easy to manage, because it typically comes from a variety of sources such as coal-based energy, traffic and heating in the megacities themselves.

Yu proposes spraying water into the atmosphere to simulate natural types of precipitation that are able more effectively to scavenge or collect and remove aerosol and gaseous pollutants. And while chemical agents can be added to the water sprayed for other purposes, Yu recommends forgoing the addition of these chemicals to keep the process as natural as possible to avoid side effects that might cause harm to the environment. Moreover, because water that is used for these purposes can be collected and reused, adopting this kind of plan would not exacerbate existing water shortages.

Yu predicts that his geoengineering scheme could help to reduce the fine particle load in the atmosphere efficiently to a safer level of 35 micrograms per cubic metre. And it could be done in a short time, depending how the water is sprayed. The technique would need to be implemented daily to avoid the accumulation of air pollution in the atmosphere and the occurrence of haze.

According to Yu, this option is not only natural, but also technologically feasible, efficient and low cost. All the necessary technologies and materials required to make it work are already available, from high buildings, towers and aircraft, to weather modification technology and automatic sprinkler heads.

Research and experiments are currently underway to design a suitable water-delivery system.

Speeding up airline boarding
Researchers from Clarkson University in the US have developed a strategy to ease one of the headaches of airline travel: boarding the flight.

Professor John Milne and undergraduate student Alexander Kelly have devised a method that assigns airline passengers to a specific seat based on the number of bags they carry, causing luggage to be evenly distributed throughout the aircraft.

Each row of seats would tend to have a passenger with two bags, a passenger with one bag and a passenger with no bags.

"The new method would save at least several seconds in boarding time and prevent any one area of the plane from becoming overloaded with bags," says Professor Milne. "Airlines could provide a smoother boarding experience for passengers by utilising the research."

Co-researcher Kelly tested the method by running thousands of simulated boardings using a computer model. 

Transport implications of the online shopping bonanza
Online shopping in the UK continued to grow this Christmas with 63 percent of online shoppers ordering three or more gifts online. Now, engineers are warning this switch in shopping style needs to be considered as part of an integrated transport policy.

A survey carried for the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that of the 2,011 adults surveyed, 1,518 were online shoppers. Of these, 968 (63 percent) had bought a minimum of three gifts online this Christmas.

The huge switch to online shopping, whilst possibly reducing car travel to the local shops could well be increasing transport emissions as more and more lorries take to the roads.

The IET's Professor Phil Blythe said the change from traditional shopping to online continues apace. This brings with it major shifts in transport patterns, and he thinks we should consider how this will affect our transport infrastructure.

“Traditionally, consumers would travel to the local high street or retail park to buy gifts," he says. "We are now seeing an explosion of online shopping, often where gifts are bought and delivered in many batches.  This then results in more deliveries being made and a huge increase in emissions and congestion on our roads.

“We’ve heard a lot about delivery by drones, but this is at least a decade away. With online shopping on the increase, traffic congestion and emissions will only rise. We are calling on retailers to consider all this and get smarter about the impact of deliveries on our roads.

"We would encourage the use of smart logistics to minimise footprint or re-use a transport mode for these deliveries (such as a ‘post bus’) or using unused capacity in other delivery fleets.

“Perhaps there could be opportunities for retailers to encourage shoppers to ‘pool’ all their orders into one delivery thereby reducing the number of individual deliveries to the same address."

Professor Blythe doesn't see this trend changing any time soon. Moreover, evidence suggests where people substitute a shopping or work car journey by an online one, activity does not necessarily reduce their car travel as they then make extra leisure journeys to maintain their social networks.

Les Hunt

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