CityTrees and electric bin lorries: the best green innovations for Clean Air Day

To mark Clean Air Day (21 June), edie has rounded up some of the ground-breaking innovations being explored by companies across the globe as we look to tackle the dangers of air pollution.

A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations aimed at tackling dirty air have emerged

A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations aimed at tackling dirty air have emerged

The event, organised by Global Action Plan (GAP), serves to highlight the scale of the toxic air challenge in the UK and abroad, after the UK’s polluted air was declared a “public health emergency” by MPs in 2016. Globally, 90% of people were found to be breathing poor air daily by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Indeed, GAP estimates that airborne pollutants shorten the life of at least 29,000 people every year in Britain alone, with the latest global data from WHO finding that the global figure stands at seven million, with developing nations the most vulnerable.

But potential solutions to the toxic air epidemic do exist - this is not an unsolvable issue. The onus is now on businesses – particularly those within the carbon-intensive transport and mobility sectors - to continue to innovate and to work collaboratively to solve the problem.

With that in mind, edie has rounded-up some of most innovative solutions to the toxic air problem below.

Magtec’s repowered electric bin lorry

As carmakers push to electrify their models and businesses strive to cut fleet emissions, the EV revolution has just begun within the heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) sector, with Volvo unveiling its first electric truck designed for heavy-duty roles in May.

This week saw UK firm Magtec retrofit a refuse collection vehicle at the end of its normal working life with an electric motor in a bid to cut air pollution in the UK’s urban areas, most of which have been covered in illegally toxic air since 2010.

The zero-emission, 26-tonne dustcart is designed to carry out a 14-hour shift around Greenwich before it requires recharging and is set to begin a year-long trial in the borough this year, with a view to a wider rollout if successful.

The trial comes ahead of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) launch in Central London, which will penalise diesel vehicles that do not meet Euro 6 standards and most petrol vehicles that do not meet the Euro 4 standard from next April.

Airlabs’ air filtering technology

Given that air pollution is a contributing factor in the premature deaths of more than 9,000 Londoners annually, technologies which aim to clean air in the capital are widely sought after.

One potential solution comes from Danish firm Airlabs, which has created air-filtration technology which claims to remove 95% of traffic fumes and residual airborne pollutants including nitrogen dioxide and CO2.

The air cleaning units have been fitted at three bus stop sites in New Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road and High Holborn as part of a campaign by The Body Shop, and were more recently installed in Stella McCartney’s new Bond Street store.

RepAir’s “breathing” shirt

Another move from the fashion world comes from Italian designer Kloters, which has created a T-shirt that cleans the air through a specially-designed insert capable of capturing and disintegrating pollutants and foul odours.

Called RepAir, the shirt is made from organic cotton but incorporates a pocket filled with so-called Breathe fabric - a material Kloters claims can remove up to 92% of sulfur dioxide and 86% of the nitrogen oxides it comes into contact with.

The designer estimates that each shirt, if worn constantly for a year, would absorb the equivalent pollution to that emitted by two cars annually. A previous entrant on the green innovations of the week, the product is currently raising £8,000 in funds for the product through a Kickstarter campaign.

 Graviky Labs' tailpipe Air Ink

Contrary to popular belief, carbon isn’t inherently evil – so much so that companies like high-tech polymer supplier Covestro are treating it treat it as a valuable raw material that can enhance product specifications and cut key environmental footprints.

Another company adopting a similar mindset is Graviky Labs, a spinoff company from MIT Media Lab working out in India. The start-up is targeting tailpipe emissions from diesel vehicles, and using them as a resource material for an innovative Air-Ink system.

More than 1.6trn litres of air has been cleaned by the firm's technology since 2013. The process attaches a “Kaalink” device to vehicle exhausts. The process is being kept under wraps by the firm, but the device can capture around 93% of the emissions from internal combustion engines, taking just 45 minutes to convert it to an ounce of ink, which will then be sold on as a product.

Evergen Systems’ Citytree

With large areas of London commonly breaching annual legal limits for air pollution within the first few weeks of January, the CityTree could embed air purifying technology as part of a smart cities transition.

The device, which has an air purifying capability of 275 natural tress, occupies the space of just one tree and can reduce harmful pollutants in its immediate vicinity by up to 30%.

It utilises a combination of mosses to absorb particulates, while plants provide shade to enable the moss to grow in an urban environment. Meanwhile, built-in watering and Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring mean it is largely self-sustainable. 

European cities such as Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and Oslo all have CityTrees in place, while the first in the UK was installed in Newcastle in March. Since then, The Crown Estate and Westminster City Council have started trialling the moss-covered technology on Glasshouse Street to see what impact it has on local air pollution levels.

Various electric cargo bike services

A cocktail of stringent T-charges, accelerated urbanisation and the evolution of online shopping is changing the role of delivery fleets. These heavy-duty vehicles are finding it harder to operate across cities yet are one of the least developed vehicle types when it comes to electrification.

It is reassuring to see, then, that companies such as UPS and the City of London Corporation’s Environment Committee are rolling out various e-bike models to help with last-mile deliveries in a sustainable and environmentally considerate way.

Cargo bikes can make deliveries anywhere within Congestion Charge zones and use an electric motor to enable the deliverer-turned-cyclist to transport goods around urban areas, without the associated noise or emissions from conventional delivery trucks, which themselves are slowly becoming engulfed by the EV transition.

Sarah George & Matt Mace


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