Shortlisted for RIA RISE Innovation Award 2024

In a landmark report from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has set out the dangerous impact air pollution is having on the UK’s health. It highlights that around 40,000 deaths a year linked to air pollution. Air quality is crucial for human and environmental well-being. Pollutants like PM2.5, O3, NO2, SO2, and CO can create health problems. Poor air quality also harms vegetation, soil, and water, and contributes to climate change by trapping heat. This pollution also leads to economic costs, including healthcare expenses and lost productivity.

Rail has a key role to play in the wider air quality improvements already happening across society, both by reducing its own impact, and by facilitating cleaner end-to-end journeys. On the national level, rail only contributes a small proportion of such emissions, compared to other sources such as roads. However, on a local level modelling suggests that rail could be responsible for up to 20% of all emissions in some urban areas. This means that rail must address localised air quality issues, including those in enclosed stations and onboard trains. New Street station has many challenges to tackle due to the sub-surface design with 12 platforms. Diesel trains at busy stations like Birmingham New Street (BNS) emit NOx and PM, affecting air quality and creating challenges to improve it despite an advanced extract ventilation system constantly monitoring emissions and extracting away from the platforms.

A train leaves BNS station approximately every 37 seconds on average, many of which are diesels trains. The high frequency of the trains in the sub surface long platforms with low floor to ceiling height prevents effective dispersion of the emissions, thereby creating pollution hot spots. Enhancement of the existing ventilation system was carried out in 2017 and 2018 and managed by Q Sustain with Mace and Network Rail to install a number of NOx sensors linked to the 100 no. jet fans at high level, and resulted in improvements of around 30%, but emissions remained high when trains idle at the station. Since the trains are essential services that many people resort for daily commute, it was necessary to identify solution that would not affect the services and functionality of the station.

To overcome the above challenge, Network Rail appointed Q Sustain Ltd. to conduct a detailed analysis by intensive research into different technologies, surveying the station to identify the pollution hot spots and to identify suitable solution/product to improve air quality.
It was deemed necessary to identify a product that would not affect the passenger flow on the platforms and affect station operation. After extensive research on various products a versatile, robust and compact product ideal for application was chosen.
Pluvo units work by drawing air into the unit through a centrifugal fan, passing it through pre-filters, gas scrubbing stages, and post-filters before releasing clean air.

As result of collaboration with Network Rail and Pluvo, Q Sustain was able to identify and implement this unique, innovative, non-intrusive solution at Birmingham New Street station to improve air quality of passenger at platform 10-11. We have successfully installed and commissioned two units at Birmingham New Street in February 2024, which are currently under trial operation. The two month data from this installation shows promising results, evidencing a reduction in in particulate matter by 17 % and peak NO2 emissions by 24% as seen in the graphs.

This is a first of its kind innovative installation at a train station in the UK and opens opportunities of scaling this project to all the platforms of this stations and similar other station to reduce the impacts of poor air quality on human health and environment.

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