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Tim Brown, Albert Presto and Michael Giordano
From left: Tim Brown, Albert Presto and Michael Giordano at CMU-Africa in Kigali, Rwanda.

Improving Air Quality in Africa

CMU-Africa, CMU-Pittsburgh and global collaborators create a testing center in Ghana

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Hannah Diorio-Toth
College of Engineering

Experts do not know how many Africans suffer due to air pollution because there is little to no data about air quality in most areas. Yet estimates published in the Journal of Geophysical Research say that air quality-related deaths rank within the top leading causes of death across the continent. 

Engineers from Carnegie Mellon University in Africa(opens in new window) and CMU’s College of Engineering(opens in new window) are hoping to fill this knowledge gap with the help of a new grant from the Clean Air Fund(opens in new window). The funding will create a center in Accra, Ghana to test and evaluate the accuracy of low-cost air quality sensors as well as train people to gather and analyze the data of the deployed technology.

The project will build on the previous work of AfriqAir(opens in new window), a Carnegie Mellon Africa-affiliated group focused on bringing together global researchers to improve knowledge about air quality in Africa. The group, made up of collaborators from across the world, includes many faces from CMU: Albert Presto(opens in new window), a research professor of mechanical engineering; Paulina Jaramillo(opens in new window), a professor of engineering and public policy; and Tim Brow(opens in new window)n, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and engineering public policy, who is also the director of research at CMU-Africa.

Since 2020, AfriqAir has deployed 50 low-cost air sensors across 11 African countries. The deployment of these sensors has allowed the group and their partners to gather important data, but thousands more sensors are needed to create a robust picture of the air quality environment in Africa.

This new testing center will provide a place for anyone (companies, universities, government agencies and nongovernment agencies) to test their air quality sensors against a reference instrument — the “gold standard” in evaluating the effectiveness of this sensing technology. 

An air quality sensor installed

Since 2020, AfriqAir has deployed 50 low-cost air sensors across 11 African countries.

We want to be technology agnostic so that we can build an infrastructure of air quality testing in Africa,” said Presto. “We hope to seed growth in the field of air quality by providing a place for groups to test their technology.” 

The West Africa testing center will be up and running within the year with the help of Ghana-based collaborators Allison Hughes, senior lecturer at the University of Ghana(opens in new window), and Kofi Amegah, associate professor at the University of Cape Coast(opens in new window)AfriqAir chose to create the testing center in Accra because of the strong air quality research community in Ghana and the large amount of interest in air quality across the country. 

“Working around low-cost sensors’ limitations and ensuring they are giving accurate measurements is essential for everyone with a stake in air quality, from policymakers, to scientists, to laypeople. I hope that this new testing center will allow air quality stakeholders to be able to use low-cost sensors with confidence,” said Michael Giordano, executive director of AfriqAir. “Once confidence is established, then the real work of directly improving air quality through laws and policies can begin.”

While AfriqAir researchers are first focused on opening the West Africa testing center, they hope to one day open more centers across the continent to make air quality testing more prevalent in East, South, and North Africa. The group recently held a conference at CMU-Africa to gather its collaborators and partners from across the world to talk about current and future projects, including the newly funded testing center in Ghana.

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