Armed with science and technology, the Korean government is tackling the country’s fine and ultra fine dust problem as one of nine national research and development projects through the year 2023. The goal is to rid the air of the dust particles that not only spur global warming, but also pose significant dangers to human health. Our Oh Sooyoung has more on tackling fine dust: Korea’s new growth engine. Invisible specks of dust smaller than grains of pollen fog up the sky and pollute the air we breathe. Fine and ultra fine dust particles are so minute that they can also penetrate and clog the lungs, causing respiratory problems like asthma or even cancer. In Korea, the concentration of fine dust particles has remained persistently high compared to other developed countries, at 29 micrograms per cubic meter, or double the OECD average. But now, the Korean government is aiming to cut that figure in half within seven years. It’s one of nine national projects launched last month to boost future industries and the quality of life for all citizens. “In the past, studies on fine dust were conducted separately by different ministries and research groups. This time, the government is taking a comprehensive approach using science and technology.”
The first task at hand is identifying emission points and quantifying how much they each produce to compile a solid database. “Unlike primary particulates that are emitted in dust form, it’s hard to track down where secondary dust comes from, as it’s formed by nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide floating in the air. If we identify these points, it can help us set goals and create effective policies.” Building on that roadmap, researchers will work to optimize the core technologies and integrate them with artificial intelligence to measure and predict fine dust levels. Developments are already underway. “With the growing interest in small pollutant particles, our carbon-tracing technology was jointly developed by the science and environment ministries.” One research team has come up with a way to trace black carbon, a component of fine dust. “Less than point-one micrometer in size, black carbon can cause health problems when inhaled. And because of its color, it absorbs solar light, which warms the air and contributes to global warming.”
Laser beams are shot into a box where light-absorbing particles like black carbon are flown into an interferometer. As the interferometer heats, it produces a higher voltage signal. The change in voltage indicates the amount of black carbon particles present. “Previous devices used filters to sample aerosols, but we removed the filter and used a laser-based interferometer, increasing the accuracy. Our device traces the small amounts that conventional fine dust detectors can’t pick up, paving the way for future detection technologies.” Another core focus is developing cost-efficient technology for removing dust particles and pollutants like nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide . This engineering company develops dust collection systems to improve air quality. “We have plenty of core technologies that could be worked on as potential solutions for the government initiative. We just need the right policies and the resolve to push it through.” With one system, particles as small as point-one micrometer can be captured through electrostatic attraction when they’re charged at a high voltage. The company has also developed a fabric filter that can remove the harmful dust in flue gas from large facilities.
“We’re working with manufacturing plants, steel producers and other processors to figure out how we can improve and optimize the technologies for each field.” The government aims to have fine dust removal technologies like these up and running in three years’ time. “By 2023, the government aims to expand the use of fine dust data and technology to help create services and gadgets that will improve every day life in Korea.” The impact of these developments is also expected to reach beyond Korea’s borders, as fine dust control is expected to be one of the leading industries of the future. “We could help control the levels of air pollution in China through information sharing. And as areas like AI are in the early stages of development, other countries facing regional air pollution issues could benefit from our progress and solutions, across Asia and even in Europe.” By developing innovative solutions based on state-of-the-art technology, Korean researchers are aiming to clear the air, not just in Korea but in other countries.