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Fog against particulate matter

In the fight against ultra-fine dust, Amsterdam Airport wants to use fog to trap the particles and make them sink to the ground. The small particles produced by the ground movement of aircraft are particularly harmful to health because they can penetrate far into the lungs. But stronger fuel regulation would also help.

Ultra-fine dust at airports is a major problem. 90% of the fine dust measured comes from the taxiing movements of aircraft and their take-off and landing procedures. Since the enormous friction and temperatures produce extremely small particles - hence the name ultra-fine dust - these particles are particularly dangerous. They can penetrate deep into the lungs and pass from there into the blood. In addition to lung damage, they can also cause cardiovascular diseases and damage various organs.

At Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, in cooperation with Wageningen University and the Netherlands Aerospace Centre, tests are now being carried out to see whether fog can help against the particles. In theory, the fog particles should attach themselves to the particulate matter, causing it to sink to the ground. Since fog is heavier than air, the small particles would be eliminated from the air. In this way, people working on the tarmac, but also residents living near the airport, could be protected from ultra-fine dust.

At construction sites, where a lot of dust is swirled into the air, this approach already works. Because of the tiny size of the particles at airports, Amsterdam wants to use ionised fog, i.e. fog with an electric charge. Similar to a balloon that can be charged by friction and then attracts hair, the mist is also supposed to attract the ultra-fine dust.

In addition to such innovative solutions, however, stronger regulation of aircraft could also help. According to the Federal Environment Agency, for example, reducing the amount of sulphur contained in paraffin would lead to a significant reduction in particulate pollution.  Towing aircraft on the ground by electrically powered machines could also improve air quality. So instead of capturing particulate matter from the air, one could ensure that it is not created in the first place.

But politicians are still mostly reluctant to regulate international transport because airports depend on international business. So instead of also introducing emission standards for aircraft, or establishing some kind of environmental zone at airports, the new technology of ionised fog is supposed to provide a remedy.

After all, if the project is a success, airport workers could soon be better protected.  And the concept could potentially help to reduce traffic emissions in urban areas and at busy intersections to protect more people.