The new instruments created by the research team comply with the technical standards set for UFP measurements, but are cheaper and easier to produce and maintain. This is made possible by the simplified design of the instrument and, for example, leads to 2-10 times less liquid consumption, i.e. a refill every half year vs every two weeks, compared to existing instruments.
Ultrafine particles are harmful to people. They can penetrate into the bloodstream through the lungs and cause various health problems. The WHO has expressed concern over the health-related issues caused by these particles, but not enough measuring – and no large-scale monitoring – has been done to determine how many particles are found in emissions, let alone indexes that show which sites may harbour hazardous amounts.
New regulation is coming. The EU Commission has decided to ensure that adequate information is available at locations where high concentrations of UFP occur that are mainly influenced by sources from air, water or road transport (such as airports, ports, roads), industrial sites or domestic heating.
“The proposal by the EU to implement UFP monitoring as part of air pollution monitoring is a very positive decision. The decision makers need to have measurement data on the UFP concentrations for making informed decisions on their limit values and subsequent reduction measures. This data is currently largely missing”, says project leader, Dr Juha Kangasluoma from the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research.
One of the factors hindering UFP monitoring is the cost of measurements, which limits the availability of the data to push the regulations and expand monitoring. The target of the venture is to solve this problem by commercializing the first cost-effective instrument that produces data that adheres to the technical specifications and ensures comparability.
Kangasluoma’s team is currently preparing a series of 2nd-generation prototypes. The aim of the venture is to make mainstream, cost-effective equipment that is IoT compatible.
The basics of the technology is not new. The instruments have been needed by the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR), in cooperation with The University of Helsinki’s Department of chemistry and the Finnish Meteorological institute. So the collaboration has made it possible to test developed instruments needed for measurements. “The design of our instrument is being kept simple, so it can be modified to fit the situation it is used in. It also takes into account the new technical standards”, says Kangasluoma.
“The first measurements with our prototype were done by installing the instrument into a drone and measuring the nanoparticles in the lowest layers of the atmosphere. We did test flights with drones together with the Finnish military a few years ago and, more recently, together with the group of Prof. Marja-Liisa Riekkola from the department of Chemistry”, says Kangasluoma.
“Drones are perfect tools for measuring the stratification of different pollutants in the lowest parts of the atmosphere. However, the new prototype’s focus is on stationary monitoring of the UFPs at ground level because there is the largest anticipated need of measurements”, he says. The second-generation prototypes can now perform several months of unattended operation.
“This project is another example of a case where scientific curiosity and freedom has led to the development of technology that has commercial potential for a different application. When we started, the only interesting thing was the atmospheric processes in the lower atmosphere, but to probe them, we had to develop simple enough technology to manage drone flights”, Kangasluoma explains. Transforming the drone prototype into the stationary monitoring instrument is currently done under Business Finland R2B grant.
“More recent trials have been done in city environments, first in Helsinki, and currently we are operating one unit in Tampere”, says Kangasluoma. At this point the prototype and technology are almost ready for scaling up. Next, the team will be setting up trials to measure UFPs in various indoor environments.
“Indoor air quality is equally important compared to outdoor air quality, as people spend most of their time indoors”, Kangasluoma adds.
The team has already worked for some years in the laboratory with the prototypes, and the current NaPa (NanoParticle) project is funded until end of 2024.
Kangasluoma’s five-person team has 20+ years of combined instrumentation experience, providing a background in top-level atmospheric science at the University of Helsinki. They also have experience in technology startups. Currently the team is looking for partners, investors and spinout possibilities. The science and prototyping is mostly done; now what is needed is to commercialize the results.
There are many parties that cannot currently measure and could use cheaper equipment, such as cities, authorities, the indoor air sector, and essentially anyone interested in clean air. Commercial customers and partners could then include companies operating in vehicle emissions and air-quality monitoring space, city authorities and, in the future, potentially even consumers.
Since there is clear interest, and a market for making these kinds of measurements, the aim is to go beyond the confines of Finland and on to the European and global markets.
Ultrafine particles pose a well-known health hazard, but knowledge of their sources and concentrations is sparse. Long term monitoring is currently insufficient because of the high instrument acquisition and operational expenses.
Cost-effective instrument that is optimized for long term monitoring from the NaPa team that allows accurate monitoring of the UFP concentrations and fulfils the necessary technical standards.
NAPA's solution for measuring ultra-small particles makes it possible to collect air quality particle data significantly more precisely and more cost-effectively than before. The research work has been done and the prototype of the device has been developed. We are currently seeking partners and the possibility of establishing a spinout company. We will carry out commercialisation work with the support of Business Finland and the University of Helsinki until the end of 2024.
We are looking for partners both for measurement applications as well as funders