LIFE funds in Austria have been used successfully to demonstrate an innovative technology for tackling the challenge of traffic-related air and noise pollution. The project results hold useful options for helping to reduce the environmental pressures that exist in urban regions across Europe.
A recent summit meeting in Copenhagen of European cities and regions reinforced the participants’ strong commitments to do more to promote sustainable regional development. An agreement (referred to as the Copenhagen declaration) was signed by over 300 members of the Committee of the Regions, and elected representatives of the EU’s local and regional authorities.
This declaration, heralded as a “vision of tomorrow’s cities”, states that, “The role of urban policy and the European social model should be upheld and championed at the Rio+20 Earth Summit”. Contents of the vision included goals for European cities to strive for climate-neutrality, environmental and health improvements, pollution controls, new technologies that encourage green economies, as well as integration of urban zones into their surroundings.
LIFE Programme support for sustainable development actions in our towns and cities have contributed to these types of areas in a diverse range of direct and indirect ways. An interesting example of this, with good potential for replication elsewhere, is the SPAS project (LIFE06 ENV/A/000345) from Klagenfurt in southern Austria.
Wolfgang Hafner was involved in coordinating the LIFE project which he explains, “Set out to test a new Sound and Particle Absorbing System (SPAS) for reducing negative impacts from road networks in busy urban areas. Traffic pollution in these situations can create problems caused by a build up of fine dust or particulates which represent hazards to both human health and the wider environment.”
“Fine dust is a matter which has to be taken very seriously. These very fine particles are emitted into the air by traffic and other sources like domestic heating systems as well as by industry. Since they are so tiny, they are able to make their way deep into human lungs, damaging not only respiratory organs but also the cardio-vascular system. Children and older people are especially at risk.”
“Because Klagenfurt is located in a basin we knew this pollution threat was a particular problem for the population in Klagenfurt, and we also knew the same problems affect hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who are suffering from a progressive decline in air quality. It was against this background that our SPAS LIFE project was developed and implemented to seek sustainable solutions for tackling reductions in air quality values and excessive noise near busy roads around Klagenfurt.”
Innovative thinking and applied new technologies formed key components of the SPAS project which ran from October 2006 to the end of 2009. Its total budget amounted to around €2.5 million which included €1.2 million of co-finance from LIFE. Mr Hafner describes what the money was used for. “SPAS involved testing and demonstrating the effect of new approaches for reducing fine dust pollution. We did this through the innovative combination of conventional noise protection systems with a specially adapted air filter technique. Our objective was to significantly reduce the exposure of noise and dangerous fine dust or particulate matter for people who lived beside roads with high traffic volumes.”
“We had already gained a lot of useful experience about pollution reduction options along roads from an earlier LIFE project and we wanted to take this work further by incorporating the new fine dust filter systems onto noise barriers. These filters took the form of carefully designed baskets which were filled with a mix of coarse and fine filter materials that are capable of absorbing the fine dust which is whirled up by the air flow from traffic movements.”
“Three different test sites were selected around Klagenfurt and Lake Wörthersee. In Viktring the LIFE funds helped to cover the costs of constructing a new noise-protection wall with integrated filter baskets. LIFE also supported the retrofitting of an existing noise-protection wall with filter elements to protect residents in Wölfnitz. The project’s other main prototype action involved retrofitting the Lendorf underpass motorway tunnel with 100 filter elements.”
Pollution control tests carried out in the three sites included analysis of the filter’s overall performance. Results helped to identify the best material for providing low filter resistance and high absorption capacity. Computer models were applied by the SPAS project partnership to calculate the optimum position and alignment of the trial walls so that passing traffic ensured good air flow through the filters.
Monitoring during the project’s term focused on measuring levels of particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) at the test sites. The LIFE team also recorded meteorological parameters, traffic data, noise levels behind the walls and filter-maintenance measurements. “Findings from our LIFE project actions were very positive”, says Mr Hafner who continues, “The SPAS filters cut PM10 levels by 23% in the tunnel and by around 15 to 31% alongside the roads.”
“Noise pollution was also controlled by the SPAS technology. At one site, noise levels behind the new integrated filter wall fell by about 7dB, and this is the same as taking away as much as 80% of the traffic. It made a big difference to local residents and brought roadside houses and gardens within reasonable noise level limits. The retrofitted wall, which was increased in height by about 0.5 m, reduced noise by 2.1dB at ground level. The tunnel site tests also gave beneficial results.”
Outcomes from the SPAS project were recognised as having considerable potential at an EU level. The project received a Best of LIFE Environment award in 2010 and conclusions from SPAS have now been further developed by a new LIFE project. This is involved in disseminating information about solutions for traffic-related PM 10 to other interested parts of the EU.
Mr Hafner explains, “The noise barriers with filter baskets funded by SPAS are still in operation and will exist for the next 20 to 30 years. We are now expanding our knowledge-base of pollution control systems through the CMA+ project which has been exploring the effectiveness of Calcium-Magnesium-Acetate (CMA) for acting as a type of fine-dust glue which fixes the PM10 and takes it out of the air. This reduces the health risks and makes the PM10 easier to remove.”
“Our Project CMA+ project has been running since January 2009 and is due for completion at the end of September this year. In June we are organising our third International Fine Dust Congress here in Klagenfurt which will serve as a platform for the international transfer of knowledge on managing and mitigating fine dust.”
“Representatives of the relevant bodies at European level, of federal and regional administration authorities, as well as from business and academia will provide their inputs. New technologies, methods and actions will be presented to raise awareness about what can be done in practice to tackle the issue of fine dust control.”
Readers of LIFEnews can find out more about the Congress and its registration process on the event website.