University of Surrey Secures £620k Grant to fund an interesting new project.

In a bid to closely monitor greenhouse gas emissions and their dispersion, a groundbreaking initiative is set to take flight at the University of Surrey, courtesy of a substantial £620,000 grant.

The project aims to construct novel, lightweight wireless gas sensors that will be affixed to helium kites, flown autonomously by robots. Researchers anticipate that these innovative devices will revolutionise the monitoring of emissions.

Dr. Robert Siddall, a Lecturer specialising in robotics at the University of Surrey, emphasised the critical importance of accurate emissions monitoring in the global pursuit of net-zero targets. “If the world is to reach net zero, we need to be able to check that emissions really are reducing,” he stated.

The initiative builds upon previous attempts to employ drones for gas flux monitoring, addressing key limitations such as inadequate measurement quality, limited flight time and airspace restrictions. 

Dr. Siddall expressed confidence that the deployment of the new robot balloon towers, equipped with cutting-edge sensors developed at Surrey, will overcome these challenges.

Collaboration lies at the heart of this ambitious endeavour, with several local businesses joining forces. Surrey Sensors Ltd, a spin-out company from the University, will spearhead the sensor development, while Allsopp Helikites Ltd, based in Hampshire, will supply the helium balloons essential for the project’s airborne operations.

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Field testing of the technology will take place at a range of environments, including Thames Water treatment facilities, the University’s agricultural land at Blackwell Farm in Guildford and rice paddies in Spain.

Dr Bing Guo, a senior lecturer in environmental engineering and microbiology, highlighted the significant challenges facing the UK water sector in achieving net-zero goals, particularly concerning methane and nitrous oxide emissions from wastewater treatment systems. 

“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,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dr Belén Martí-Cardona, an associate professor in Earth observation and hydrology, underscored the global significance of the initiative, particularly in the context of methane emissions from rice farming.

A schematic of how three robots could be deployed at a sewage treatment works.
A schematic of how the robot looks (left) and how three robots could be deployed at a sewage treatment works (right). Image credit: University of Surrey

“Rice farming is one of the main methane emitters worldwide. Farmers can access financial incentives for reducing their emissions. 

“We are currently using satellite images to monitor whether these practices are being implemented, and using simulation models to estimate the emission reductions achieved,” she said.

By enabling ground-level measurements of emissions, the project aims to enhance the accuracy and reliability of emission estimates, complementing existing satellite-based monitoring efforts.

This pioneering initiative represents one of 13 projects nationwide selected for funding as part of a £12 million investment from UKRI’s Natural Environment Research Council, Defra and Innovate UK. 

As efforts intensify to combat climate change, the innovative collaboration at the University of Surrey offers a beacon of hope in the quest for sustainable solutions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.