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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

Laboratory comparison of low-cost air pollution sensors highlights new recommendations for their use

Published: 27 April 2020
Low-cost particulate matter sensors
Low-cost particulate matter sensors being tested.

Florentin Bulot, NEXUSS/SMMI LTDS PhD student in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Science at the University of Southampton, has published a paper in MDPI Sensors on the 15th April 2020: “Laboratory Comparison of Low-Cost Particulate Matter Sensors to Measure Transient Events of Pollution”, in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen. In this study, the researchers investigated the response of 40 commercially available low-cost particulate matter (PM) sensors, from 5 different manufacturers to peaks of pollution lasting for a minute or less.

Outdoor air pollution is deemed to be associated with 40,000 deaths per year in the UK. In Southampton, there is only one monitoring station for a 50km2 area. Monitoring stations are expensive, require significant expertise to be operated and it is difficult to find new locations to host additional stations in dense urban areas. Hence it is challenging to obtain a better spatial coverage of air pollution. Low-cost sensors may provide an opportunity to complement these monitoring stations. These sensors are commercially available but the quality of the data they produce is still poorly understood.

The results indicate that the sensors are able to detect peaks of pollution with different sensitivity for different models of sensors. It suggests that using a combination of different models of sensors may provide additional information to PM mass concentration. Using a combination of these sensors could help improve field monitoring campaigns, including tracking of sources of pollution. Further research is now in progress, outdoors, to validate the results obtained in the laboratory against reference-grade instruments in real-life conditions.

Florentin is supervised by Dr Steven Ossont (Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences), Prof Gavin Foster (Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences), Prof Simon Cox (Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences), Dr Matt Loxham (Faculty of Medicine), Dr Andrew Morris (National Oceanography Centre Southampton).

This work was funded by the Leverhulme Trust through the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute and the Next Generation of Unmanned System Centre for Doctoral Training. The University of Southampton worked on the project with the University of Copenhagen, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, NERC, NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, Institute for Life Sciences, and Danish Big Data Centre for Environment and Health.

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