[Researcher of the Month] Using Drones to Understand and Find a Solution to Fine Dust
Professor Ahn Kang-ho (Department of Mechanical Engineering, ERICA Campus)
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Public awareness regarding fine dust has increased rapidly in the past decade. Weather forecasts now include daily particulate matter (PM) pollution numbers, with PM 10 meaning fine dust particles less than 10 micrometers (0.001 millimeters) in diameter. Ultrafine dust particles are dust particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers. Masks have become a necessity, and a vast number of air filtration products are topping sales. The Korean government is not standing idle as to fighting this phenomenon. A recent Seoul city government policy targeting old diesel cars for their high emission levels has banned them from entering the area within Seoul’s four main gates. However, the government also funds several research projects in order to find a solution. Professor Ahn Kang-ho (Department of Mechanical Engineering, ERICA Campus) has been part of such a project that uses drones to monitor fine dust fluctuations and understand what causes them.
Fine dust is created either from the top down (matter broken into pieces until they become fine dust such as yellow dust from the Gobi Desert) or the bottom up (molecules become fine dust through chemical reactions caused by high temperatures or pressures such as factories, vehicles, or ships). Ahn said that fine dust is particularly harmful as tests have shown that it is extremely difficult for the human body to filter them, which stays within the lungs and accumulates. Although people associate fine dust with factories or sandstorms, it is actually created by everyday actions like cooking meat using a frypan or smoking cigarettes.
“Recently, people have been interested in fine dust, but actually, this phenomenon goes as far back as the Silla Dynasty (B.C. 57-935) in Gyeongju,” said Ahn. “There was a law that prohibited cooking rice with other materials other than charcoal.” Ahn added that some countries, especially England, learned about the dangers of this miniscule dust the hard way. Known as the Great Smog of London of 1952, the disaster killed around 12,000 people, including people suspected of having died in the following months as a result of the event. Several smog appearances in Los Angeles of the United States have also highlighted the dangers of unregulated vehicle pollution since the 1940s.
Measuring fine dust is tricky as the machines used to analyze dust particles are usually as big as cabinets and cost over 10 million won. Sampling fine dust and going back to the lab was also a big obstacle to offering real-time measurements of fine dust that was usually monitored all day. Ahn built his own machine, creating a fine dust measuring device that records elements such as time, location, wind speed, humidity, gas, and carbon particles. Ahn successfully made this comprehensive measuring device lighter, which can be fitted into a drone or backpack. Spain’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIC) invited Ahn to demonstrate an earlier fine dust monitoring method using balloons in both 2014 and 2016. Ahn also works with institutions in China and Mongolia.
Mobility is key to Ahn’s three dimensional fine dust measuring method. Drones carrying the device are launched into the sky surrounding a target area and slowly ascend and descend, revealing the relation between altitude, sun position, temperature and wind direction. With this method, Ahn has offered the government several fine dust monitoring methods using drones for industrial areas, roads, harbors and farms. Ahn offered the government a comprehensive report, suggesting that it monitors these areas with differing methods, including fine dust size differences between roads, creating a map that points out exhaust creating factories and the secondary changes that the fine dust particles go through, following ship routes in harbors, and mapping out farming routes and ammonia distribution.
“Managing fine dust from the source is the cheapest way to solving this problem,” said Ahn. As there are no efficient methods to eliminating fine dust, Ahn said that the best way is to prevent them from being created in the first place. Fine dust will only get worse, unless governments, industries, and the public change their everyday habits that feed this poisonous cloud.
Jung Myung-suk email@example.com
Photos by Lee Hyeon-seon
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