Institute for Transport Studies (ITS)

The Living Lab for Air Quality

With the help of staff and student volunteers, the Living Lab for Air Quality aims to shape the University’s transport plan. 

Part of the Sustainability Service’s Living Lab project, the Living Lab for Air Quality is a collaboration between the School of Earth and Environment, Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, the Institute for Transport Studies and the School of Civil Engineering. 

The yearlong campaign, which launched in November 2017, runs two projects side by side; Campus Air Quality Monitoring and Commuter Exposure Research. The improved knowledge gathered during these projects will be used to shape and inform the University’s travel plan, and has already influenced the landscape plan. 

As part of the Air Quality Monitoring project, volunteers will be using state-of-the-art portable particulate matter air quality monitors, to collect air quality data along 3 set routes on campus. This data is then analysed and uploaded to The Centre of Excellence for Modelling the Atmosphere and Climate (CEMAC) website, where it can be viewed by anyone for research and teaching purposes, or just by those with a general interest.

In order to collect data for the Commuter Exposure Research project, volunteers are asked to carry the portable monitors whilst on their commute (drive, cycle, walk or sitting on public transport). By gathering data from these different transport methods, staff and students hope to gain an understanding of the way transport modes can affect our exposure to air pollution. 

As part of this project, volunteers from ITS also worked with Enviro Technology Services who provided the ‘Smogmobile’ – a mobile air quality lab within an electric van. Over a period of a week they monitored air quality on a popular commuter route – Headingley to Leeds – to see how exposure to air pollution changes dependent on mode of travel (cycling, walking, public transport or vehicle). The staff and student volunteers also explored the different in exposure when taking an alternative ‘green route’ instead. 

“Across Leeds there are a number of static air quality monitoring sites, but how pollution levels vary away from these sites remains largely unknown. The Living Lab for Air Quality aims to address that by measuring pollution levels across the University of Leeds campus, and along popular commuter routes, using portable monitors.” Said Dr Cat Scott, Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, on the recent project. 

“We’ve already seen that pollution levels tend to be highest around the busiest roads, and junctions, but also that you don’t have to change your route much to drastically reduce your exposure.” She added. 

“People will be surprised that we found the cyclist was exposed to the lowest total amount of pollution, partly as this was the quickest mode of travelling to and from campus and Headingley. The physical activity makes it healthier too. But we also found levels in the cabin of the ‘Smogmobile’ were very high despite this vehicle being electric and not generating any emissions itself” said Dr James Tate from the Institute for Transport Studies, who has been leading the commuting surveys. 

Data gathered through the Commuter Exposure Research project will also be used in the dissertations of two ITS students; Marie Godward (MSc Transport Planning & Environment) and Hao Wu (Transport Studies & Engineering).