Today marks Earth Day, an annual internationally coordinated event to promote environmental awareness and action. High-energy physics technologies and knowledge transfer from CERN have had a considerable impact on society, and the environment is one of the many areas concerned. Indeed, CERN is tapping into its technologies and creativity to help tackle the colossal challenge of making the planet healthier and more sustainable.
Through its Knowledge Transfer group, the Laboratory works with industry, in particular with start-ups, to drive innovation using technologies developed at CERN. Several of these technologies are being put to good use in areas from clean energy solutions to pollution prevention and agricultural optimisation.
One such technology is PlanetWatch, a CERN spin-off that aims to provide a tool to generate, validate, analyse and record air-quality data. Its environmental sensor uses the CERN technology C2MON, a modular Java framework for large-scale industrial monitoring and control. Currently, PlanetWatch has over 500 sensors installed across Europe and the US. Proprietary algorithms and mobile phone and web apps leverage a wide range of leading-edge technologies. These include Algorand, one of the most advanced blockchains in the world, as well as a data acquisition framework developed at CERN and a wide range of IoT-enabled sensors. PlanetWatch will help detect local air pollution peaks and identify local triggers.
Another example is BAQ (Better Air Quality), a start-up that tackles radon gas using RaDoM (Radon Dose Monitor), an innovative radon-monitoring instrument developed at CERN. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that easily escapes from the soil and accumulates in homes and other buildings. The progeny from radon decay is radioactive and, over time, can lead to health issues such as lung cancer. The RaDoM technology includes a cloud-based service to collect and analyse data, check the measurements and drive mitigation measures based on real-time data. It was field-tested in several successful pilot projects along the lines of Smart Cities and Smart Homes. In 2019, the project resulted in the spin-off BAQ, with CERN and BAQ signing a licence agreement on the technology in December. The future plans for the spin-off are to focus on the European B2B market and to establish BAQ as an innovative player in the field of radon monitoring and mitigation, bringing a positive impact on society by helping to prevent public health problems.
In terms of sustainable agriculture, a collaboration known as Fibre Optic Sensor System for Irrigation (FOSS4I) uses environmental measurement technology from the CMS experiment at CERN to develop a smart water-saving solution for agriculture. FOSS4I aims at optimising irrigation systems at low cost through the online measurement of key soil parameters such as temperature, humidity, and the concentration of pesticides, fertilisers and enzymes. The goal of the resulting system is to save water, increase crop yields and reduce the use of undesirable chemical products.
CERN is also coordinating a project, ARIES, aimed at finding ways to improve the performance, availability and sustainability of particle accelerators. The ARIES team has identified promising R&D projects that could significantly help to reduce air pollution from maritime traffic using particle accelerators, thus making maritime transport greener. One of them is testing a system to break down pollutants with an electron-beam accelerator before safely extracting them.
The CERN Laboratory, nested among islands of greenery, is home to a typical dry grassland flora with a rich biodiversity, notably featuring the largest variety of orchid species in the Geneva region. CERN is committed to continued development as a green lab by designing environmentally sustainable infrastructures for the future. These include the energy-efficient Prévessin Computing Centre and the Science Gateway, CERN’s future education and outreach facility currently under construction. The latter will be surrounded by green spaces with rich and diverse vegetation and its infrastructure will be carbon-neutral thanks to the use of geothermal energy and solar panels.
As well as answering questions about the origins of our universe, fundamental science can play a key role in providing breakthrough solutions for a greener future. Read here the Earth Day 2021 statement from the European Intergovernmental Research Organisation forum (EIROForum) Council, of which CERN is a member.