By Sukhbir Sidhu, director of Evergen

Sukhbir Sidhu, director of Evergen

Evergen is a multi award winning Clean technology company. When we started out in 2010, we were being told that the greatest threat to humanity was Green House Gas emissions and energy was the biggest contributor. So we made it our mission to reduce energy consumption and CO₂ emissions in the built environment. We began installing Solar systems on homes and went on to install Electricity Storage and Energy Management systems on commercial properties and public sector buildings. As well as saving our customers £thousands on their annual energy bills, all these activities have a direct impact on cutting CO₂ emissions now and for decades to come.

In the last few years we have been hearing about a much more lethal threat. Polluted air is choking our towns and cities and slowly killing us. So in early 2016 we started looking for solutions. The initial research was to understand the entire air quality space and seek out available solutions. However at the time, there were lots of companies that consulted and advised on pollution, its causes and consequences, but few that actually offered solutions.

Consequently a lot of research time was spent searching online, getting onto forums, groups and seeking out research organisations involved in air pollution. One company I came across in late 2016 was a start up company called Green City Solutions in Berlin (GCS). They had leveraged over ten years research by Dresden University Technical Institute into the role of  mosses in reducing air pollution. At the time GCS had built a couple of prototypes and the system was still in development. So I invested considerable time researching the phenomena of mosses and pollution. I needed to understand and validate (a) how effective this was (b) what were the challenges and (c) why has this not been done before? This meant seeking out people and organisations researching mosses. This is a group of plants called Bryophytes and there are some 20,000 moss varieties in the World. I found out about two Bryologists (Professors of Bryophytes) at the University of Wroclaw in Poland and hired a local Polish lady to help me translate. I had a number of conference calls with these experts and also with others in Portland, Oregon. It seems that whilst the phenomena of moss plants and pollution has been known for decades and mosses has been used as bio-indicators of pollution since the 1960s no one had actually tried to use mosses for actually improving urban air quality.

Through this research I learnt that mosses are vascular plants, they have no roots. They ingest all the nutrients and water they need, from the air. This makes them ideal air purifiers. However due to their constant need for water and shade, mosses are barely able to survive in cities. It seems that GCS had overcome these challenges by designing a structure with a self contained water supply, solar panels and batteries to provide power, with onboard sensors and IOT technology to provide environmental data and plant health via an online portal.

After I became satisfied with the provenance of the technology behind CityTree I started discussions with GCS to license the technology. After lengthy discussions and negotiations involving a number of trips to Berlin, in August 2017, Evergen signed an exclusive agreement to sell, service and maintain the CityTree in UK. As the exclusive Partner we have been active in assisting GCS with the further development of the CityTree. For example, we have been researching the design or a “mobile” CityTree mounted on a trailer for demonstrations and also to be used at building sites.

After almost eight months of discussions with Westminster City Council and with the support from the Crown Estate, we installed the first CityTree at Piccadilly Circus in London. This was followed by another installation in Newcastle City centre. As the CityTree was still an experimental system we were involved in monitoring its performance and condition. In the long hot summer of 2018 a large number of the CityTrees installed around Europe suffered and GCS decided to stop selling and embarked on a major redesign. CityTree v.20 is expected to be launched in 2020.

Sukhbir Sidhu, Cllr Wilkinson, Cllr Nickel Aiken, Cllr David Harvey, James Cooksey and Peter Sanger stood by the CityTree, Glasshouse Street, London 16th March 2018

Whilst CityTree was an innovative solution for improving air quality as well as greening the environment I always knew it was not very practical to install such a large structure on the street. Cities around the World are crowded and there is no space for any new street furniture – especially something the size of a CityTree, which is 4m high, 3m wide and 2m deep. So I had been looking for other solutions as well.

Through my contacts at Kings College, University of London I was introduced to Dr. Matthew Johnson, Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and air pollution at University of Copenhagen. In 2017 we explored the idea of using a high efficiency air cleaning technology combined with advanced air flow engineering to clean outdoor areas. The idea was to integrate air cleaners into existing street furniture and City infrastructure such as bus shelters and advertising hoardings. We knew it was impossible to clean the airmass of an entire City, so our strategy was to clean small areas creating “microenvironments of clean air” where people need to sit, walk or linger. Traditional method for removing pollution from air is to use filters (like your car engine filter). This is very inefficient as the filters eventually clogs up and has to be replaced adding to maintenance costs. Also driving air through a filter media consumes a lot of energy. As an environmental company, it did not sit with Evergen’s philosophy to use filters which needed to be recycled. Another method of cleaning air is a technique called Electrostatic Precipitation (ESP). Whilst this can provide 98-99% clean air, its efficiency declines over time. After considerable research we found a company that had patented a process to maintain the efficiency over a longer life cycle. Evergen signed an exclusive agreement with this company to manufacture ESP air cleaners that we would adapt for outdoor applications. We then decided to set up a pilot outdoor CleanAirZone to prove our solution. However we needed to do this in a highly polluted environment. Early in 2017 I had set up a small team in Delhi to look into air pollutions problems in India and they found there was a huge need for solutions.

After a number of visits to Delhi I managed to secure a site in the Centre of Delhi, just across from the Indian Parliament. In May 2018 Evergen constructed the zone and scientists from Copenhagen came over to install the air cleaners and run their experiments. After extensive tests for two weeks, on 13th June we launched our pilot CleanAirZone and invited press, politicians and the public to see our demonstration. This was an enormous success and we received blanket coverage on all major TV News channels and were in over 300 newspapers. Such was the level of publicity that on 20th June, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, India’s Minister of Environment, personally came to visit our pilot to learn about our technology and how it could be adopted in Cities. We decided to run the pilot for a longer period to test the technology for a few months, then in October 2018, our CleanAireZone was tested, validated and Certified by National Physical Laboratory. The NPL were hugely impressed and decided to hold a press conference to announce the results. We were able to achieve 93% clean air at the zone and 80% at up to 20m. this was the World’s first successful demonstration of cleaning outdoor air pollution in a large area.

On 15th December 2018, the State of Uttar Predesh (UP) Pollution Control Board announced that they “recommended Evergen’s solution for improving air quality in Cities”. UP is Indian’s most populous state with 223 million people. It is also home to seven of the ten most polluted Cities in India. Today we are installing our systems in hotels, hospitals as well as in outdoor markets and recreation areas in India. Our air cleaning technology is being designed into the air conditioning systems of Indian railways and metro trains.

With our experience and certifications in India, in 2019 I turned my attention to UK. Our initial focus is schools in London. We have started projects to install air cleaners indoor and outside in the playgrounds.

As well as the immense challenge of improving urban air quality, there are other major hurdles –

  1. Whilst we all want to breathe clean air, no one is prepared to pay to clean urban air pollution
  2. Because we can’t see, smell or taste air pollution, most people don’t really pay much attention
  3. Due to the high cost of accurate pollution sensors, there are very few monitoring points in cities
  4. Due to the above City Governors do not really understand the full extent of their pollution problems and where to focus on solutions
  5. When looking at solutions for improving air quality most Cities focus on transport as it seems the “obvious culprit” and you can easily generate revenues from motorists

The Future

As a leader in solutions for tackling urban air pollution, we have to continue innovating. Which means bringing new techniques and ideas to market. Our R&D dept are the World’s leading Universities who are continually innovating and developing. Our technology model is to license technologies from Universities and research organisations and develop the solutions. Our plan is to be the first company to provide a “holistic solution” to improving urban air quality. This means we need to have capabilities in

Monitor – To fully understand the issue of air pollution in a city, a limited network of air quality monitoring stations is not sufficient. We have engaged a scientist and inventor to develop a new range of precision pollution sensors

Diagnose – Our air quality consulting service enables cities for the first time to build up a complete picture

of air quality modelling in detail, sources of pollution from both inside and outside the city and how these combine to flow through a city. we will have the capability to model pollution in cities and provide City Governors.

Clean – today we have solutions for cleaning indoor and outdoor air pollution as well as technologies for cleaning commercial pollutants and odours. We have the Worldwide license for an innovative technology developed at Copenhagen University to clean Industrial pollutants at source. We calling this “excigen” and have stared building the first solutions.

As well as developing solutions to monitor, model and clean air pollution, we will work with Cities and Municipalities to develop new funding models to finance installation of technologies to clean urban air. These finance models will include using advertising revenues to fund outdoor installations and using effective monitoring to punish the countless organisations that create pollution within cities.