This summer PERC welcomed 14 entrepreneurs from all over the world for its 13th annual Enviropreneur Institute. One of our enviropreneurs, David Hoffman, is an avid outdoorsman with a particular interest in air quality. He is developing a company devoted to measuring air quality based on a network of optical sensors. He holds a doctorate from Montana State University, where he focused on the design, construction, and deployment of a high spectral resolution LIDAR for atmospheric aerosol observation.
Q: Could you describe the technology you are developing?
A: I am currently developing technology to measure air quality based on the intensity of sunlight observed by a network of LED-based sensors on the ground. This network will provide a map of air quality. Such a map could be used by people to make decisions based on the health impact of the air they will be breathing at different locations on any given day.
Q: How do these sensors measure air quality?
A: The sensors measure air quality by recording the intensity of sunlight and comparing the observed intensity to the intensity that should be observed if the air is clean. The incident solar radiation is observed at multiple wavelengths, which allows for the determination of the size distribution of particulate matter in the air, as well as the detection of certain trace gasses. The particulate matter and trace gas information can be used to make inferences about the quality of the air.
Q: What’s the status of the project?
A: At the moment, I am refining and testing the technology, developing a business plan, and seeking potential investors.
Q: What challenges lie ahead in creating market incentives for measuring air quality?
A: People are interested in the quality of the air they breathe because it has a significant impact on their health and quality of life. Many large industrial and mining facilities are under pressure (from the EPA, concerned citizens, and other groups) to curb their emissions of harmful chemicals and particulate matter. I am tailoring my product (spatial mapping of air quality) to these two markets. I believe that a significant incentive already exists to better understand and monitor air quality.
Q: How do you see this new technology changing the way people respond to air quality?
A: I see individuals making daily decisions based on their new-found knowledge of air quality. For example, they may choose to recreate in a location where the air is better, rather than risking their health by recreating in a location with dangerously bad air. People may choose to keep their kids indoors if the air at their location becomes dangerously polluted. Additionally, large industrial sites will be able to better keep tabs on their emissions, which will help them to comply with existing clean-air standards.
Q: What did you take away from PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute that will help you develop your project?
A: The Enviropreneur Institute provided me with the tools I need to get an environmentally friendly business off the ground. I learned how to use market forces to solve environmental problems such as a lack of adequate air quality information. The mentoring provided by the Institute faculty and the other enviropreneurs has proven invaluable in all aspects of my project.