Northumbrian installs 'moss tree' to fight city-centre pollution
Northumbrian Water has announced that it has installed a pollution-busting 'moss tree' in Newcastle to purify air in the city centre and create opportunities for research into the benefits of the plants' natural filtering abilities.
Northumbrian Water Group (NWG) has been working on the plans since July 2017, when it held its first ever NWG Innovation Festival, working with a range of partners to identify ways it can tackle a wide range of social and environmental problems.
The company reached an agreement with Newcastle City Council to site the tree at the Haymarket, close to the city's bus interchange and busy main roads.
The moss cultures involved in the "tree" have the ability to filter certain pollutants, by binding them to the leaf surface and then integrating them permanently into their own biomass. This makes them ideal air purifiers. The moss is built into the 'moss tree' structure, which provides the water – largely harvested from the rain – and the shade the moss needs to survive.
The results achieved will be made available for universities and other bodies on an ongoing basis, to feed into their own research on tackling pollution. Built-in sensors will gather information on pollution including nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide, as well as monitoring air humidity, temperature and rainfall.
The NWG Innovation Festival involved Northumbrian Water working with 140 partner organisations, including headline sponsors IBM, Microsoft, Ordnance Survey, BT, CGI Group and Reece Innovation. More than 1,000 people took part during the course of the week-long event.
Among the issues tackled in special "sprints" was the subject of how businesses can improve the environment in the North East, with Northumbrian Water working alongside Ordnance Survey to explore the subject. The moss tree was one of the leading ideas to come out of that week.
Nigel Watson, Northumbrian Water's Group Director of Information Services, said: "The Newcastle moss tree is a fantastic opportunity to explore a truly innovative way of tackling pollution and sharing the findings with people who can take the concept and expand upon the value it brings to the environment.
"As part of the NWG Innovation Festival in 2017, we decided to look at how businesses can improve the environment, but we didn't really know where that question would take us, in terms of ideas and the impact they can have. To now have the result of one of those ideas in such a prominent position, where it can reduce pollution and gather real world data, is brilliant.
"This is a first for England and Wales and we are very proud to be at the forefront of something so exciting, and we have had fantastic support from a wide range of people and organisations to make this happen, including Newcastle City Council, which has helped us locate the tree in such an ideal spot."
Cllr Arlene Ainsley, Cabinet Member for Transport and Air Quality at Newcastle City Council, said: "It's wonderful that we will have England's first 'moss tree' here in Newcastle and I look forward to seeing how the information it will provide can be used to inform ways in which we can improve air quality.
"In Newcastle, as in many cities, poor air quality is having a significant impact on our health, wellbeing and quality of life. Nationally it's responsible for up to 40,000 early deaths a year and, while it affects everyone, if you are very young, very old or already have health problems like asthma or heart disease, you're more likely to be affected.
"We have to tackle this. One of the main things we need to do is look at how we travel and, where possible, make fewer journeys by car. It's also important to look at other solutions and I'm very pleased that the city council has been able to support Northumbrian Water in this innovative environmental project."
Nigel Clifford, Ordnance Survey's Chief Executive Officer, said: "The NWG Innovation Festival is a pioneering example of what the imaginative pooling of private and public resources can achieve. As we have seen over the past decade through our own ‘Geovation' activities, Ordnance Survey and the power of location has a fundamental role to play in delivering answers for the common good, because everything has to happen somewhere.
"The moss tree looks great, and the combination of geography – where it is strategically placed – and the science behind its positive effect on air quality makes it a smart solution for modern cities."
Phil James, Senior Lecturer in Geographical Information Science at Newcastle University, said: "Newcastle's Urban Observatory is delighted to be working with partners such as Northumbrian Water to understand how urban sensing can improve the lives of citizens. Cities have many stakeholders and comprehensive understanding requires the pooling of data resources in an open and structured fashion.
"The Newcastle Urban Observatory is the largest deployment of urban sensing in the UK. We currently store more than 700 million data points with 2 million added daily from over 500 sensors. The Urban Observatory, as well as deploying our own sensors, works in partnership with many city stakeholders and citizens to integrate data from different sources to provide a baseline of information to enable data driven evidence for change."
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