The worldwide lockdown revealed the true extent of global air pollution for the first time. Despite the economic chaos, it provides huge impetus to tackle a global health challenge.
It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder but in the midst of the worldwide coronavirus lockdown there are some things we definitely don’t miss. The remarkable resurgence of the natural world – hearing birdsong or seeing wildlife reclaiming our urban centres – reveals to many that the dramatic fall in traffic volumes and industrial emissions has had some unexpected but welcome consequences. The unicellular coronavirus achieved what no highly educated politician could since the 1960s – a massive improvement in global air quality, with all the attendant benefits to nature and human health.
Emissions of nitrogen oxides, VOCs and particulates have plummeted. Maps showing substantial improvements in air quality in industrial and urban concentrations or photographs of areas conventionally shrouded in smog but now crystal clear are obvious manifestations revealing the true extent of the problem. It’s a revelation that for most witnesses is easily visible for the first time.
The witnesses to the scourge of air pollution are also its victims though. Long understood as having an extreme detrimental impact on our health and wellbeing, emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels kill millions of people every year around the world and in the UK alone it contributes to thousands of deaths. Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence showing that air pollution is a risk factor in coronavirus infections and deaths too.
Of course, the economic shock of this pandemic will have a long-term impact, but the chaos of coronavirus has emphasized an economic opportunity. Alongside our physical wellbeing there are significant costs associated with healthcare and other impacts to consider in any discussion of air quality. According to a 2016 OECD report, air pollution could cause 6 to 9 million premature deaths a year by 2060 and cost some 1% of global GDP as a result of sick days, medical bills and reduced agricultural output. Globally that is around US$2.6 trillion every year; in China alone a World Bank study showed it cost the country 10% of annual GDP in 2013.
In addressing the air quality issue, there is also the possibility of reinvigorating the UK manufacturing base through innovative, locally-developed and produced clean energy technologies like fuel cells. Able to serve the demand for power and heat in both stationary and mobile applications, fuel cells are one of a range of technologies that can support improvements in local air quality while also addressing other pressing global issues such as climate change. It’s an opportunity for the UK to lead the world in an emerging market that is going to soar.
This isn’t some far-fetched future scenario set to play out decades from now. The technologies capable of achieving long-term, sustainable improvements in air quality are already commercially available today. They are demonstrating rapid reductions in costs on an almost daily basis as volumes increase and the technologies and experience in using them steadily improve.
Obvious by its absence today, air pollution is a ubiquitous, silent and often invisible killer that impacts all our lives. By revealing its true nature, the lockdown has also revealed the urgent need for a solution. That solution is available now and we must seize the opportunity to make a positive change from the global tragedy of coronavirus. Let’s not go backwards now we have seen the future. Look at the picture – where you want to live?
To discover more about how Adelan can support your future energy ambitions or to meet your requirements for clean, quiet and reliable energy for remote, mobile or any other applications, please contact Dr Kendall and the rest of the Adelan team at:
15 Weekin Works,
112-116 Park Hill Road,
B17 9HD (UK)
Tel: +44 (0)121 427 8033
Alternatively, visit us at: www.Adelan.co.uk
First founded in The Midlands, Birmingham-based Adelan pioneered microtubular solid oxide fuel cell (mSOFC) technology more than 30 years’ ago. Adelan’s patented and scalable technology gives the fuel cell unprecedented flexibility, allowing the system to run on a range of commonly available fuels such as LPG, natural gas or propane/butane mix. As a result, though Adelan fuel cells can also run on hydrogen, they offer considerable additional operational flexibility and ease of use benefits whilst retaining a small, compact and lightweight footprint. Adelan staff founded and built up the University of Birmingham Fuel Cells Centre, and now aim to commercialise UK fuel cell technology through the Fuel Cell Incubator, with a first event in October 2019.