Kites flown by robots to measure emissions

A team from the University of Surrey have received a share £12 million in funding awarded to projects developing systems for monitoring waterways, habitats, soil and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Innovation in Environmental Monitoring programme has been designed to support UK academic institutions, SMEs and large companies in their development of novel monitoring technologies and systems-based approaches. It aims to drive UK growth and commercial opportunity in this sector through the development of new products, processes and services.

The University of Surrey team won a £620,000 grant from NERC, Defra and Innovate UK, to build new, lightweight gas sensors which will be attached to helium kites and flown by an autonomous robot. Researchers hope the new devices will be able to monitor gas emissions – and which way the wind is blowing them.

Dr Robert Siddall, Lecturer in Robotics said: ‘If the world is to reach net zero, we need to be able to check that emissions really are reducing. Previous projects tried to use drones to monitor gas flux – but the quality of their measurements wasn’t good, their flight time was too short, and airspace restrictions limited their use. Our robot balloon towers, kitted out with sensors and built here at Surrey, should solve many of these challenges.’

The team will work with several local businesses including, University spin-out company Surrey Sensors who will build the sensors, while Hampshire’s Allsopp Helikites will provide the helium balloons.

This complex project will combine a range of skills from across the University – from fluid dynamics to building robots, analysing data and sensing emissions.

The technology will be tested in a variety of locations – including Thames Water treatment works, the University’s land at Blackwell Farm Guildford, and rice paddies in Spain.

Dr Bing Guo, Senior Lecturer in Civil and Environmental Engineering said: ‘The UK water sector faces huge challenges in achieving net zero. One of the biggest issues is that wastewater treatment systems produce methane and nitrous oxide. These have a much greater warming potential than carbon dioxide.

‘We don’t have an accurate and affordable way to monitor these emissions. Our project will create innovative tools for the industry to achieve net zero.’


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