IIT Kanpur’s Prof. Tripathi Talks Air Quality Monitoring, IIT’s Low-Cost Project, Cloud Seeding Initiative

IIT Kanpur’s Prof. Tripathi Talks Air Quality Monitoring, IIT’s Low-Cost Project, Cloud Seeding Initiative
IIT Kanpur’s Prof. Tripathi Talks Air Quality Monitoring

India needs a better mechanism to monitor air quality to battle the current air pollution situation, said the Indian Institute of Kanpur’s Professor Sachchida Nand Tripathi from the Department of Sustainable Engineering.

Prof. Tripathi--who also heads a special cell within the institute, the Center for Advanced Air Pollution Monitoring Technology said, "The center has developed a cost-effective mechanism for capturing real-time air quality. This mechanism is already in operation in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar."

At a time when the country has been suffering from the deterioration of air quality, Tripathi and his colleagues from the institute have also been offering innovative solutions to the government, such as cloud seeding.

In an interview with StartupTalky, Tripathi tells us about the causes of air pollution, ways to tackle it, and probable solutions that can improve the quality of air in the country.

Are you satisfied with the air quality monitoring happening right now?

Prof. Tripathi: We need to have better monitoring of the ambient air quality. We have a diverse social and economic populace. Therefore, only having a certain number of government monitors would not help in effective air quality monitoring. Instead, we need more hyper-local air quality monitoring, which means that we augment the government-led monitoring with a sensor kind of technology that provides a lot more data at the hyper-local level. We also need to monitor sources in a better way, which will help in monitoring our interventions.

How can the problem of stubble burning be addressed?

Prof. Tripathi: Stubble-related burning fire counts have come down this year. This year, there is a 50% or more reduction in the number of fire counts compared with 2022, as per NASA data. For October, the reduction in fire counts in Punjab and Haryana was about 60%. For November 1–6, there was a reduction of 30–50%. It's not that it's totally stopped, but there is definitely a reduction. To some extent, fire-related emissions coming from Punjab and Haryana are aggravating the problem, but local emissions also cannot be totally excluded when you think about sources that are contributing to this extreme air pollution situation.

What would you attribute the deterioration in air quality to?

Prof. Tripathi: Haze is composed of particles, which are also called aerosols, of varying sizes and chemical compositions. Now, how these particles are emitted, what is their growth, the magnitude, and the physics and chemistry of their growth are also very critical to understanding the haze formation. So, there are three things contributing to pollution right now: You have local emissions; to a certain extent, of course, the regional emissions (from Punjab and Haryana) also contribute; there is meteorology, and then there is chemistry (of pollutants and gases in the air). Chemistry plays a very major role because, even if you observe post-November, many of these emissions still remain.

What are the interventions at our disposal right now when we are facing this situation?

Prof. Tripathi: We need to carry out the larger-level policy-led reforms that are basically transitioning to clean energy sources—clean transport, clean electricity, from biomass—to maybe something that does not generate greenhouse gases and pollution. We need to employ more clean energy resources in every sector where energy, transport, or mobility are involved.

Has IIT Kanpur conducted trials of the artificial cloud seeding project? What are your conclusions?

Prof. Tripathi: There were trials in Kanpur that were quite successful. We also tried to conduct trials over Delhi NCR, but because of certain clearances that could not be obtained in time, we didn't do it. But now IIT Kanpur has an instrumented aircraft equipped with cloud seeding equipment, so it's worth trying because, on a very large scale, sometimes this haze persists. There are very few solutions that will work at scale. Cloud seeding can only be done in the presence of cloud cover; cloud cover is now a prerequisite that accelerates the process of rain. This is worth trying, and it doesn't hurt. At best, it can remove the smog.

When will the Delhi government undertake cloud seeding?

Prof. Tripathi: I think that would depend on the clouds. But first, the clouds need to form.

What kind of R&D is taking place in aerosol engineering to improve poor air quality?

Prof. Tripathi: We have developed more affordable, scalable technologies to sense aerosols and gases. Currently, we are working on developing sensors that are 50 times cheaper than the current government monitors. These sensors are indigenous. For the cost of one monitor, we can deploy 50 such sensors. As I speak, we are deploying 1,400 sensors in UP and Bihar that will have one sensor in every block of these two states. Data is coming in every five minutes. We are also working on quantifying sources of pollution. Once you get an idea of the sources, you can mitigate them, which helps in evaluating your interventions. Now, the conventional method of source contribution is very time-consuming and expensive. So we have developed a new technology called Real-Time Source Apportionment and we have a monitoring vehicle on the go, which gives us real-time, reasonably precise source contribution. We are currently doing that in Lucknow. We have just reached 700 days of data. So using sensor data, machine learning, and AI, we can provide source information in a cost-effective manner and in a very short time.

Have you talked to any other governments about using these sensors for monitoring?

Prof. Tripathi: We are working with both the UP and Bihar governments. The Delhi government has not reached out to us. They know what we are doing, but this hasn't gone beyond that.

How do you plan to take this technology forward?

Prof. Tripathi: There's already good interest shown by different private entities and philanthropic entities, which is why we were able to scale up to 1400 locations in UP and Bihar. But more participation from private entities will definitely help.

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