As part of the European 'sensEURcity' project, additional air quality sensors will be installed at various locations in Antwerp. This is a pilot project with cheaper measuring instruments, which should make it possible to set up a more precise network to measure and analyse air quality. VITO Health is coordinating the project. This pilot project will give us insight into the possibilities of such sensor networks and enable us to assess and improve data quality.

Antwerp, 12 June 2020 - Cities are increasingly looking for ways to get an idea of the air quality in their city. The big problem is costs: cheap air quality sensors all too often have a low or even unknown data quality. If the quality of measurements based on cheaper sensors can be improved, these sensors can make a big difference in monitoring air pollution, traffic management, personal exposure and its effect on health, but also for civil science or monitoring air pollution in developing countries.

SensEURcity' is an international research project of the European Commission in which sensor networks with cheaper sensors are deployed and evaluated in Antwerp, Oslo and Zagreb. In this way it is possible to test the suitability of sensor systems and to find out whether and how they can complement traditional air monitoring stations and networks. The Flemish knowledge centre VITO coordinates the project. In collaboration with the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) and with the support of the city of Antwerp, a detailed network has been built up in the city.

Specific sensors

Different types of sensors can measure different types of pollutants. For example, the sensor boxes with cheaper air quality sensors can measure the pollutants fine dust (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrogen monoxide (NO), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), and carbon dioxide (CO2). Electrochemical sensors, optical particle counters and optical sensors are used for this project.

We know that sensor measurements are often insufficiently sensitive and that the sensor signal can be influenced by, for example, temperature, humidity or even other substances. The quality of the sensor results therefore strongly depends on the technology, the location and the circumstances where sensor measurements are applied.

That is why sensors are always calibrated before they are networked in different places in the city. The quality of the sensor measurements is improved by applying calibration models and quality control until the required accuracy is achieved for certain applications. The aim of 'sensEURcity' is, among other things, to find out what quality level can be achieved, and whether the same quality of measurements can be achieved in cities with very different climates.

The added value of sensors

In Antwerp, various measuring stations continuously monitor the air quality. These are large and expensive installations, which provide very reliable figures on the quality of the air in the immediate vicinity. Thanks to the data from the measuring stations, not only can the air quality at these locations be monitored, but the VMM and VITO can also draw up ATMO-Street air quality maps that show which zones in the city are less or more affected by poor air quality.

However, in order to improve the city's air quality maps and to get a correct picture of the quality of life in a certain neighbourhood or in certain environments, it is necessary to have a much denser network of measurement points. Cheaper sensors may offer a solution there in the future. At the moment, however, measurements with sensors often differ too much from the reference measurements to be usable without additional quality control.


The 'sensEURcity' project was launched precisely because measurements from cheaper sensors are still too unreliable and data quality is insufficiently known. With this sensor project, the Directorate-General of the European Joint Research Centre (DG JRC), with funding from the Directorate-General for Environment, aims to help evaluate the performance and potential of low-cost sensor systems for air quality and make comparisons with conventional measurement methods. To achieve this, the sensors are used under different environmental and meteorological conditions in the three different European cities, including Antwerp. A number of these sensors will be installed at the existing VMM measurement stations in Antwerp. In this way, the results of the new sensors can be compared with those of the existing measuring equipment. In a first phase, all sensors will be calibrated against reference monitors. In the second phase, sensors are installed at a number of locations in the city in order to form a more detailed network.

The project fits within the search to collect real-time air quality data in an affordable and reliable way.

The 'sensEURcity' project partners are VITO, the VMM, the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health (IMI), and the Norsk Institutt for luftforskning (NILU). VITO coordinates the project.

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