Living walls installed to tackle roadside emissions

Staffordshire County Council (SCC) and Amey have secured the expertise of Biotecture and 40two to install a series of living walls in Staffordshire to improve air quality as part of the £22.9m ADEPT Smart Places Live Labs programme.

The Live Labs SIMULATE programme, run by SCC and Amey, is designed to not only test mobility hubs but to trial new innovations that can improve air quality across Staffordshire.

SCC has been looking to improve air quality on a granular level which can be achieved by removing harmful pollutants from the air or by reducing the amount of pollutants emitted from transport using the road network, specifically, removing or reducing particulates (PM2.5 and PM10), NOx and NO2.

Julia Jessel, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Infrastructure and Climate Change said: “The installation of living walls in Newcastle and Burton is another exciting development in our ADEPT Smart Places Live Labs programme. They should help to reduce air pollutants through natural filtration which is great news for local communities. We look forward to receiving the results of the trial and potentially rolling this out to other locations.”

To address the challenges with air quality, SCC and Amey are working with innovators Biotecture to trial an Active Green Wall (AAU) along the barrier wall of the Early Years Playground at Hassell Community Primary School in Newcastle-Under-Lyme and with 40two to trial a living moss wall in Burton-on-Trent.

The trial with Biotecture will provide a live demonstration of the AAU technology, providing the teams with evidence of air pollutant removal and the benefits to those living in close proximity to the plant-based walls. Plants remove pollutants by their leaves and associated microbial community, known as the phyllosphere, and through their roots and the associated microbial community, known as the rhizosphere.

The aim is to use the AAU technology to direct cleansed air into clean air zones that provide relief from pollution. The AAU will remove pollution and expel this into a shelter which can provide a clean air zone. Without this shelter the air that has been cleansed will be dissipated into the atmosphere and is unlikely to provide a noticeable benefit to ambient air. For the purposes of this trial, a clean air shelter will be installed.

Richard Sabin, Managing Director at Biotecture said: "Using biological filtration to actively clean our polluted air is a hugely exciting area of research that we’re delighted to be championing with our partners. Harnessing the power of plants with technology to improve air quality in both indoor and outdoor spaces has significant potential implications for public health, and we look forward to sharing results later in the year."

Live Labs Programme Director, Giles Perkins said: “The Live Labs ethos is built around innovation, not just on our local highways but around them. This initiative links places-based improvements to roads improvements and illustrates what should be in the wider basket of environmental technologies to improve the places we live, learn, work and play.”

Paul Rose, Technical Director at Amey Consulting said: “Plants have the unique ability, to remove pollutants through the process phytoremediation. Using plants in areas such as buildings and public spaces adjacent to main roads, train stations and construction sites, it’s hoped that a noticeable difference can be made to the quality of air in these challenging locations.”

The trial with 40two Technology will look at a variety of moss and lichen that are capable of capturing CO2, NO2, and fine particulate matter from the air, while releasing oxygen. The moss wall consists of a vertical structure, which filters air passing through and around it, with vertical surfaces covered in appropriate moss and cryptogamic plants.  By placing it between the accommodation and the road, the pilot will be able to demonstrate the reduction in airborne pollutants (NO2, CO2 and particulates) from the air around the living accommodation.

Simon Young, co-founder of 40two, explained: “We’re really excited to be part of the Live Labs SIMULATE programme, and get to trial our Moss Wall in an area that has such a problem with poor air quality. Moss and other cryptogamic plants have been recognised as having carbon capturing qualities for some time, so it made sense to look to nature to address man-made problems. By measuring just how much of a difference our Moss Wall can make to air quality, we’re expecting to learn a lot about how to make this kind of natural solution available anywhere it’s needed.”

Whilst these trials get underway, air quality sensors will continue to monitor air quality across Staffordshire. With lockdown easing and more people expected to return to the roads, understanding road network usage and the impacts this has on air quality will be fundamental for the teams to then recommend mitigating and pollutant reduction solutions to improve air quality.

ADEPT represents local authority, county, unitary and metropolitan Directors. The ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme is a two-year £22.9 million project funded by the Department for Transport and supported by project partners SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, O2, Ringway and WSP. Nine local authorities are working on projects to introduce digital innovation across SMART mobility, transport, highways, maintenance, data, energy and communications. Live Labs is part of ADEPT’s SMART Places programme to support the use of digital technology in place-based services.

For all the latest information on the SIMULATE project visit https://simulate-adeptlivelabs.co.uk/ and follow @SIMULATE