Researchers’ clean air device bags silver in Horizon 2020 competition

Researchers from Trinity’s School of Engineering and AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for materials science headquartered at Trinity College Dublin, came a close second in the Horizon 2020 Prize on Materials for Clean Air with their device that prevents particle pollution from entering ventilation systems.

The official announcement took place at a ceremony at the Industrial Technologies 2018 conference in Vienna late last month.

The entry for the prize was led by Dr John Gallagher, Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil, Structural & Environmental Engineering in Trinity, with partners from AMBER and collaborators from the United Kingdom and Portugal.

Assistant Professor John Gallagher (right) with the ‘Materials for Clean Air’ Prize winner Dr Jean-Jacques Theron from Corning SAS France (left) after being presented with their awards from Jean-Eric Paquet (centre), Director-General for Research & Innovation in the European Commission (©Roman Zach-Kiesling).

Dr Gallagher attended the conference to receive the trophy on behalf of his team, with the winner receiving their trophy and a cheque for €3 million to support further research and product development for their solution.

Dr Gallagher said: “Despite coming second this was still a fantastic achievement for our Air Quality research group in Trinity, and I am confident that this is just a platform for us to take our solution further. Developing practical solutions to societal challenges such as air pollution is something my colleagues and I pride ourselves in Trinity, as air quality is recognised as a global problem for human health.”

The winner of the competition was awarded to Corning SAS France, who presented a solution to reduce particulate pollution in the built environment, with the ambition of clean air for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Dr Gallagher and his Departmental colleagues, Associate Professor Aonghus McNabola and Adjunct Professor Prashant Kumar (also our UK partner), collaborated with Professor Mick Morris, Academic Director in AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research), along with Dr James Doyle and Mr Richard Coull.

Dr Gallagher added: “It was also a challenge to develop this submission. It was not like other typical Horizon 2020 proposals, and through the process of presenting our solution we had the opportunity to work closely with colleagues in AMBER for the first time.”

Assistant Professor John Gallagher giving an overview of his team’s solution for the ‘Materials for Clean Air’ Prize (back, Jean-Eric Paquet (centre), Director-General for Research & Innovation in the European Commission (©Roman Zach-Kiesling).

The partners for the Passive Mitigation of Particulate Matter (PM2) proposal were the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) in the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom and the Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (INESC TEC) in Porto, Portugal.

The PM2 consortium: Professor Mick Morris, Mr Richard Coull and Dr James Doyle from AMBER (left); Associate Professor Aonghus McNabola and Assistant Professor Dr John Gallagher from School of Engineering in Trinity (centre); Dr Jose C Rodrigues, Dr Catarina Maia and Dr Vasco Figueiredo Teles from INESC TEC in Porto, Portugal (right); and Professor Prashant Kumar, Chair of GCARE at the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, with his research group (bottom).

About the team’s solution

The team’s solution addresses the ongoing challenge of air filtration for buildings, as it is an energy intensive process and requires regular maintenance and replacement of filters.

The device is based on a concept initially developed several years ago by Dr Gallagher’s Trinity colleague, Associate Professor Aonghus McNabola; it has subsequently evolved in recent years to its current form.

Dr Gallagher said: “In short, the solution is a novel inlet that can be retrofitted to a mechanical ventilation system. It reduces the mass of particle pollution entering the system by a third, as well as saving energy and extending the life of fabric filters.”

Dr Gallagher and his colleagues are now preparing plans for a new avenue for the solution in terms of further development and commercialisation, through discussions with companies in the HVAC and filtration sector.

Additionally, as part of the proposal, Dr Gallagher and his team had planned to demonstrate the device around Europe and Asia, and to commercialise the product in the next few years on the global market through industry collaboration.

“We have a product that has a role to play in the energy efficiency and passive air pollution control of buildings, and this is something that we must take further as sustainable solutions in the built environment are vital as we are transitioning to an urban-centric society,” he added.

“The energy demands of building in many parts of the world relate to mechanical ventilation, and the market is worth approximately $20 billion, so our solution has a role to play in sustainable cities of the future and we wanted to demonstrate its potential as part of the commercialisation plan.”

“I believe there is much more we can do to create passive solutions in cities, and as an engineer my role is to go beyond conceptualisation, it is to innovate and make new technologies a reality.”

The application for the prize was supported through Enterprise Ireland and their Horizon 2020 Co-ordination grant, and provided technical support for the team to develop their solution.