About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Opportunities for innovation to improve air quality in London

The mission of the Nesta Challenge Prize Centre is to foster innovation for social benefit. This involves encouraging innovators to come up with solutions that are not currently being provided by the market, and so could be thought of as the correction of market failure

A classic example of market failure is air pollution. London's illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide and unsafe concentrations of particulates are proving a stubborn problem to tackle, and we believe there is a role for a challenge prize to stimulate innovations to reduce pollution that are currently seen as unprofitable, or that could benefit from a wider pool of innovators. 

We've scoped out some innovation challenges and opportunities and outlined some potential topics for challenge prizes in a new report

Air pollution is a complex issue, and so to help us with our work on accelerating clean air in the capital, we're bringing experts and stakeholders together at our offices at Nesta HQ for a roundtable event on 15 March, part of the Challenges of Our Era Forum series. 

Challenges and opportunities

We've identified the following areas where innovation can accelerate the reduction of air pollution in the big smoke:

1. Improved low cost sensors and internet of things platforms To increase public engagement, create smart infrastructure and support regulation.
2. Open and big data The increasing volume of air quality-related data can be mined for insights that can influence infrastructure design and consumer and procurer behavior, putting pressure on industry and government to act.
3. Reconceptualising urban mobility Reducing the number of cars on the road through car sharing, alternative transport use, and new freight models.
4. Next generation aftertreatment systems for both OEM and retrofit Miniaturised, low cost, light weight catalytic systems that are more robust to diverse operating conditions and usable across engine and vehicle types.
5. Supporting roll out of the clean energy transition Innovative means to finance vehicle purchases, increase supporting infrastructure, and discourage continued use of high emissions engines through scrappage schemes and new regulatory regimes.

Prize topics

We've thought about how these challenges and opportunities might feed into an innovation inducement prize and have come up with the following list of possibilities:

  • Air quality open data prize For the best use of openly available air quality / car emissions data to reduce the effects of air pollution.
  • Tail pipe retrofit prize For a low cost, easy to install NOx trap tailpipe retrofit that doesn't affect performance.
  • Air filtration systems prize For the most cost effective method of removing NOx and PM from the air.
  • IoT for air pollution prize The most impactful use of internet connected sensors to reduce the effects of air pollution.
  • Miniature, low cost sensor prize For the simplest, most reliable low cost portable NOx sensor.
  • Diesel scrappage scheme prize For the most attractive, cost effective diesel scrappage scheme.
  • Minimising road traffic prize For the social innovation that can get the most cars off the road.

This is a starting point for the discussion, and at the Forum we aim to refine these ideas further and hopefully come up with some new ones...

For more information on our work, check out the Challenge Prize Centre webpage. Full details of the event are available here.

Photo credit: Olivier Usher


Richard Duffy

Richard Duffy

Richard Duffy

Foresight Researcher

Richard was responsible for monitoring new developments and trends in science and technology for the Challenge Prize Centre.

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