Munster Technological University to lead €7m project to monitor air pollution

18 Jan 2021

Image: © ttlsc/

Ireland’s newest technological university will coordinate a project to develop low-cost optical sensors for real-time air quality monitoring in urban spaces.

An EU project to build photonic sensors for pollution monitoring will be led by the newly established Munster Technological University (MTU).

The Passepartout project brings together seven academic institutions, 10 industry partners and the local authority of the city of Bari in Italy.

Ireland’s newest technological university will coordinate the project through its Centre for Advanced Photonics and Process Analysis (CAPPA).

MTU researcher and senior lecturer Dr Liam O’Faolain has been appointed coordinator of the project, which has brought more than €800,000 in funding to the research centre.

“We are delighted to have received funding for the Passepartout project, which builds on and complements previous research activities and collaborations,” said O’Faolain.

“It demonstrates the inherently cross-disciplinary nature of photonics research, requiring expertise ranging from semiconductor lasers, gas chemistry and spectroscopy, electronics and software, data mining and app development, to drone operations and practical, in-field deployment experience. It is only by working together that we can ensure Passepartout has real benefit for society and climate action.”

What is Passepartout?

Passepartout is a €7m project to develop low-cost optical sensors for air quality monitoring. It officially launched today (18 January) with a virtual kick-off meeting.

The team aims to create compact photonic sensors that will exploit photo-acoustic and photo-thermal based spectroscopy. These sensors will then be mounted on buildings, vehicles and drones to provide outdoor air pollution monitoring in real time.

The technologies underpinning the project are largely available, but Passepartout will focus on combining and miniaturising them for portable analysers. In doing so, the team hopes to address the drawbacks of currently available technology, which can be impractical for widespread or mobile deployment, or incapable of reliable monitoring.

Three types of analyser will be developed – stationary, mobile and airborne – and these will be deployed in field trials with community involvement. The data from these analysers will be made available to the public via an app. The team sees this being used by people and businesses to optimise their daily routines in order to reduce exposure, but also hopes this data can in future be used to drive long-term changes.

MTU’s global ambition

Air pollution is a major threat to both public health and the climate. According to the World Health Organization, it is responsible for an estimated 7m deaths worldwide every year, with about 4.2m of these attributed to outdoor air pollution.

The Passepartout team expects to be able to measure important pollutants such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, methane and particulate matter with its optical gas analyser network.

“The Passepartout project is an excellent example of MTU’s ambition as we embark on our mission to build a region that is a global exemplar for sustainable, healthy and responsible living,” said MTU Cork’s head of research, Dr Niall Smith.

“Large-scale collaborative projects such as this exemplify the more research-focused values of the new technological university, and we look forward to seeing many more such projects led by MTU in the future.”

More information on Passepartout will be published soon on the project website.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.