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Abu Dhabi is now measuring vehicle emissions using a patented NASA spinoff laser-based technology in a bid to improve air quality in the emirate. Image Credit: Samihah Zaman, Senior Reporter

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi is now measuring vehicle emissions in a bid to develop policies that will help further improve air quality and the national air quality index (AQI).

Using a patented NASA spinoff laser-based technology, the emirate’s environment sector regulator, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), is gathering data on vehicle emissions at six different locations in the emirate for three weeks.

The Dh1.8 million project is part of the EAD’s Integrated Air Quality Management Programme, which aims to establish a baseline for future policies and regulations, identify the main emitting vehicle classes and technologies, and design effective mitigation measures.

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Improving quality of life

“At EAD, our core mandate is ensuring the best quality of life for everyone living in Abu Dhabi, and [that means ensuring] our air quality is of the highest standards. This project is a major step in the right direction for us to contribute to Abu Dhabi Government’s vision of the city being the most livable in the world,” said Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, EAD secretary general.

“We know that the transport sector contributes to pollutants in the air, and we want to be scientifically certain that we have the latest research at hand to be able to make correct and well-informed decisions. This will facilitate our capability to implement the most effective policies for the greater good of the community. We are always keen to use the latest advances technologies, and through remote sensing of vehicle emissions, we will be able to gather real-time data without disrupting traffic. Using the accumulated date, we will be able to devise mitigation plans and programmes so that we can reduce emission entering the air we breathe, and further improve residents’ safety and wellbeing,” she added.

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Abu Dhabi is now measuring vehicle emissions using a patented NASA spinoff laser-based technology in a bid to improve air quality in the emirate.

Air quality

Air quality can decline with the presence of pollutants in the air, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, lead, and particulate matter. Among these, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions pose the greatest threat to public health.

Government use the air quality index or AQI, which ranges from 0 to more than 200 to convey how polluted the air is, with lower values indicating cleaner air. The EAD announced last year that the emirate’s air quality met national quality standards on 303 days in 2021, as measures through 22 stations.

Incomplete data

However, information pertaining to vehicular emissions in Abu Dhabi is not reliable enough, especially as “it has been scientifically proven that vehicles in the road emit more emissions that they do during vehicle licensing tests at traffic and licensing departments”, the EAD said in its project outline. At present, nitrogen oxide is believed to make up 34 per cent of the emissions in Abu Dhabi, while particulate matter makes up 17 per cent.

“In 2018, the EAD created the air emissions inventory looking at the emissions in the emirate, and the different contributors. Road transport contributes to 17 per cent of the emissions in the emirate. In Abu Dhabi city alone, the contribution of road transport in 71 per cent. This is because we have cars all around us in the city, and we don’t have industry [contributors]: it is the case in all cities around the world, where road transport will have a larger contribution,” explained Oriol Teixido, air quality and noise scientist at the EAD.

“With this project, we wanted to gather more detail, including not only the total contribution but how much of it is from cars, old vehicles, new vehicles, motorbikes, etc. In this way, as a government entity, we can plan for the future, and enhance the environment and air quality,” he explained.

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Officials from EAD standing near the Emission Detection and Reporting system installed in Abu Dhabi to monitor vehicle emissions. Image Credit: Supplied

Advanced tech

The project began in September, with the period of data collection kicking off now. Two pieces of equipment – Emissions Detection and Reporting (EDAR) systems – developed by American technology developer Hager Environmental and Atmospheric Technologies (HEAT). These remote sensing systems such use absorption spectroscopy to non-intrusively measure pollutant concentrations in the exhaust plumes of in-use vehicles. A light source is placed above a roadway, with the instrument oriented so that the light beam produced by the source traverses the exhaust plumes of passing vehicles. Each remote sensing measurement lasts for less than one second, and yields an estimate of the concentration of pollutants in the exhaust plume, including nitrogen monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter.

Six locations

Teixido said the measurements will be taken from six different locations, which were selected to “get a representative idea of all vehicle types and conditions in Abu Dhabi”.

Among them is Musaffah, which will help the EAD gather data about emissions from trucks. Analysis at the Corniche will help gather data about passenger cars, whereas Sultan bin Zayed Street and Sheikh Zayed Street will inform about emissions from buses and taxis, which use the main thoroughfare. The EAD will also collect data from Al Ain later in the week in order to understand the difference and similarities between the two cities.

“The findings of this project will help us improve air quality and reduce the AQI. In future, you can expect the government will set policies [based on these findings]. For instance, just recently, there has been an announcement to implement a large number of electric vehicle chargers for electric vehicles, which do not emit from the tailpipe and are therefore much cleaner for the environment. Also, the Department of Municipalities and Transport and its Integrated Transport Centre are constantly renewing the bus and taxi fleets, and there are now many more hybrid vehicles on the road that help reduce emissions a lot,” the official said.

Collaborative effort

The project is being conducted in collaboration with UAE-based 4 Earth Intelligence Environmental Consultancy (4EI), and in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Police, the Department of Municipalities and Transport (DMT), the Integrated Transport Centre (ITC), and the Monitoring and Control Centre (MCC).

Abu Dhabi Police will be responsible for the technical information of the vehicles, and traffic management, during the monitoring and data collection exercise. DMT will be providing the permits to place EDAR remote sensing equipment on the side of the road, and will also manage all other authorisations and approvals. ITC will coordinate traffic flow information and site selection recommendations.

EAD will be able to automatically process the collected data, and coordinate with the concerned authorities to match the remote sensing information and data with those in the vehicle registration databases in the emirate. During the study period, detailed analysis of the data to be collected – such as emissions in kilometres traveled, vehicle type, model year, payload – will be provided, which help develop recommendations on how to reduce vehicle pollution.

Multiple takeaways

“Our partners are providing their full support to this exciting new project which is a first in the region. We are using the most advanced technology for the remote sensing of vehicle emissions in real-time and the large amount of data we will be gathering will be extremely beneficial to us as a scientific body dedicated to research as well as to our partners specifically. Both the DMT and the ITC will benefit from the real-time data that will assist in policy making for the reduction of emissions, as well as have baseline data and information of emissions from the current vehicle fleet in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi Police, through this endeavour, will have access to a comprehensive database of the current vehicle fleet characteristics, and information that could help them with the enhancement of the vehicle licensing process,” said Faisal Al Hammadi, acting executive director of EAD’s environment quality sector.

“Most importantly, on a larger strategic scale, this project will help in the development of harmful pollutant mitigation programmes, ensuring a healthier emirate,” he added.