Abu Dhabi is harnessing space technology to assess vehicle emission levels on some of its busiest roads as part of a major drive to boost air quality.
The remote-sensing tool - which is now in operation in the capital - aims to collect real-time data on various kinds of pollutants emitted on the roads.
Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, which has brought the technology to the Middle East for the first time, hopes the collected data will help formulate effective mitigation measures.
The unmanned system called Edar (emissions detection and reporting) sits on a 5-metre pole above the road and remotely detects plumes from the exhaust pipes of both light and heavy-duty vehicles using its laser-based overhead detectors.
Using Nasa technology on Earth
The monitoring device is a Nasa Spinoff system, a term used to describe space agency technology subsequently used to benefit life on Earth.
It was patented by US-based Hager Environmental and Atmospheric Technologies, known as Heat, with 4 Earth Intelligence (4EI) the local partner on the project.
Stewart Hager, chief executive of Heat, told The National that the remote-sensing technology is used in outer space.
“It is like a satellite on a pole on Earth.”
“It is like an OCO [Orbiting Carbon Observatory] satellite, which is part of a group of satellites that go around the Earth. They shoot a laser down into the atmosphere and they can tell you how many CO2 molecules are in that column of air. And this one does the same thing,” said Mr Hager.
“But here … I am scanning and creating a picture like a line camera.”
The system can detect carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and nitrogen dioxide with high accuracy.
It will also identify the vehicle licence plate number that will be used to assess technical information such as brand, model, fuel type, emission standard and vehicle weight. No personal information will be used in the study, said the authorities.
Edar will be installed at six different locations in Abu Dhabi; the Corniche, Mussafah, Muroor, Salam Street and Al Ain, and the testing period will last three weeks.
Road traffic a leading source of emissions
Oriol Teixido, a scientist working on air quality and noise at the environment agency, said road traffic was responsible for 74 per cent of emissions in Abu Dhabi.
"The reason is we have so many cars all around us, and it happens all over the world in big cities," he said.
"This project will help us understand not only the total contribution [of vehicle emissions] but also how much of it is from cars, from old vehicles, from motorcycles. This way, as government entities, we can plan for the future and enhance the environment of air quality."
According to the findings of the UAE Air Emissions Inventory Project, which looked at anthropogenic sources of pollution, industry is responsible for just over two thirds of PM2.5s, particle matter of up to 2.5 micrometres in size, with road transport causing almost a fifth. Power generation and desalination cause about 3 per cent.
Globally, the UAE is just below average for exposure to PM2.5, one of the key measurements of polluted air.
In September 2022, the UAE launched a National Air Quality Agenda 2031 to tackle air pollution in the country.
Mr Teixido said testing started in the industrial area of Mussafah because they wanted to understand the impact of lorries on air quality. “We will then move to Corniche area where there are lot of passenger cars.”
The initiative is part of the Integrated Air Quality Management Programme established by the agency.
Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, secretary general of the agency, said the project is a key step forward in Abu Dhabi's goal to become the most liveable city in the world.
“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,” she said.
The environment agency has partnered with Abu Dhabi Police, the Department of Municipalities and Transport, the Integrated Transport Centre and the Monitoring and Control Centre on the scheme.