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Published: 21 June 2016

£4m research project aims at zero pollution, zero urban ‘heat-island’

Surrey has won funding for a five-year research project focused on working towards cities with no air pollution and no ‘heat-island’ effect.

The MAGIC (Managing Air for Green Inner Cities) project was awarded £4.1m by EPSRC (the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) as one of only five ‘Future Cities Grand Challenges’ being funded. The project will see Surrey collaborating closely with consortium partners at the University of Cambridge (leading the project) and Imperial College.

The ‘heat-island’ effect occurs because the heat retained by buildings in built-up areas, combined with high energy use, means that the air temperature is significantly greater than in less built-up areas nearby. The MAGIC project aims to develop a novel, integrated set of models and associated management tools that together will enable cities to develop their own natural heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to reduce pollution and enhance air quality.

The ‘zero-zero’ vision provides a unifying focus for global issues of sustainability, resilience, resource use efficiency and societal health and wellbeing. Environmentalists believe that while the goal is not strictly attainable, it is critically important that it remains the target as something to be strived for and to provide a beacon for decisions. The next step will be to develop a roadmap to ensure that decisions taken as cities evolve lead to a sustainable future. The key to progress will be the ability to treat the city as a complete, integrated system.

Surrey’s contribution to the project, which is being led by Professor Alan Robins of the Department of Mechanical Engineering Sciences, draws on the University’s expertise in environmental fluid mechanics. The researchers will run small scale process studies using Surrey’s state-of-the-art environmental wind tunnel, a National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) national facility, to understand flow and dispersion in typical urban areas, the use of air quality and wind sensor data, and the transfer of pollutants from outdoors to indoors, developing computational models based on this information.

The research builds on Surrey’s previous work on the DAPPLE research projects, which investigated individual exposure to pollution as well as the physical processes controlling the dispersion of pollutants in cities.

“We are delighted to be working again with colleagues at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College. In the future, large quantities of sensor data of varying quality will become available, and the computer modelling work we are doing will provide a framework so that this can be used in an effective way.

 “When it comes to pollution, the focus is generally on outdoor levels – by a busy road for example. In reality, we spend most of our time inside. Our research will combine both the indoor and outdoor environments, taking a much more holistic approach to the whole problem. The final suite of tools will provide central and local authorities with methods for effective long-term planning of city development and its day-to-day management; for example, through the control of traffic flow or the orchestration of emergency response following a fire or chemical spill.”

The MAGIC project is being supported by industry partners including Arup, Breathing Buildings, CERC (Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants), Duvas Technologies, Foster and Partners, EC Harris LLP, EnEx G (Engineering Excellence Group), Dyson, NPL and FFI (Norwegian Defence Research Institute), as well as institutions IAP (Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Beijing), Zhejiang University (Hangzhou, China) and the University of Reading.

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