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Robots flying kites to monitor greenhouse gas emissions

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New lightweight wireless gas sensors, attached to helium kites and flown by an autonomous robot are to be built at the University of Surrey, in order to monitor greenhouse gas emissions and which way the wind is blowing them, thanks to a £620,000 grant.

Dr Robert Siddall, Lecturer in Robotics at the University of Surrey, explained:

“If the world is to reach net zero, we need to be able to check that emissions really are reducing.

“Previous projects tried to use drones to monitor gas flux – but the quality of their measurements wasn’t good, their flight time was too short, and airspace restrictions limited their use.

“Our robot balloon towers, kitted out with sensors and built here at Surrey, should solve many of these challenges.”

The team will work with several local businesses, including University spin-out company Surrey Sensors Ltd who will build the sensors, and Hampshire’s Allsopp Helikites Ltd who will provide the helium balloons, combining their services with a range of skills from across the University – from fluid dynamics to building robots, analysing data and sensing emissions.

The technology will reportedly be tested in a variety of locations – including Thames Water treatment works, the University’s land at Blackwell Farm, Guildford, and rice paddies in Spain.

Dr Belén Martí-Cardona, Associate Professor in Earth Observation and Hydrology, said:

“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.

“This new project will allow us to take ground measurements of the actual emissions, which we need to calibrate and verify our estimates.”

The project is one of 13 nationwide to be funded by a £12m investment from UKRI’s Natural Environment Research Council, Defra and Innovate UK.


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