AUB research guides policy on diesel generator and vehicle air pollution

​​Safa Jafari Safa, Office of Communications, ss152@aub.edu.lb​​​ ​​​


The AUB Collaborate for the Study of Inhaled and Atmospheric Aerosols (CARS) partnered with the Ministry of Environment in a workshop entitled “Air pollution from generators and vehicles – How severe and what can be done?” The workshop included presentations and discussions by students, faculty, and experts from the Ministries of Environment, Transport, and Energy; as well as the private sector, the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Environment Program, and United Nations Development Program.



“This workshop brings in experts from the various related sectors for their input toward recommendations that can be of help to influence policy or to help in reducing emission,” said Dr. Najat Saliba, director of the AUB Nature Conservation Center and expert in analytical chemistry. “It is based on our study which is the first base line that accounts for emission from cars and diesel generators in the whole country.” 

For more than two decades, AUB researchers have generated significant scholarship on the nature and origins of air pollution problems, and have contributed to policies such as banning the sale of leaded gasoline, removing light-duty diesel engines from the roads, and banning tobacco smoke from indoor public venues. The CARS project is a research initiative that focuses on the study of inhaled and atmospheric particles, bringing in a multidisciplinary team that looks into the pollution dispersion dynamic, the urban planning, and the urban heat island effect in cities. Headed by Dr. Najat Saliba and Dr. Alan Shihadeh, dean of the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, it was named one of WHO’s centers for tobacco studies in the Middle East and North Africa region. 

“It is no secret to anyone that lives here that Lebanon’s urban areas suffer from notoriously poor air quality.  Even away from pollution sources, Beirut’s background air exceeds by 100-200% the World Health Organization’s recommended maximum for airborne particle pollutants.  Near pollution sources like diesel generators and streets, the numbers are far worse,” said Dean Shihadeh.  

“Today’s collaboration with AUB is a unique opportunity to dig deeper into the causes and impact of air pollution,” said Hala Mounajjed, head of the Department of Air Quality at the Ministry of Environment. “This meeting brings together the challenges of the cities with the people who have the passion and ability to solve them with fresh perspectives. We firmly believe that improving air quality is a diverse and multi-sectoral issue that necessitates the active involvement and participation of all national actors.”

Dr. Issam Lakkis, professor of mechanical engineering, explained the work of the CARS study team, which, in addition to Drs. Shihadeh and Saliba, is composed of himself alongside Professors Mona Fawaz and Aram Yeretzian. Lakkis presented illustrations that highlight the importance of gathering and analyzing emission inventories, which include the sources, locations, quantities, and frequencies of emissions within an area.
“We cannot ignore any of the different overlapping components: air pollution, energy efficiency, thermal comfort, health, and the environment,” said Lakkis. “We have to look at them in totality, look at the problem from all of its angles, and put forward solutions while keeping all of these aspects in mind.”

The workshop consisted of three presentations: on the emission inventory of diesel generators and on-road vehicles in Lebanon, by graduate student Abdel Kader Baayoun; on car fleet emission and developing clean and efficient vehicle policies in Lebanon by undergraduate Wael Itani; and on ground particulate matter measurements and urban exposure to air pollution in Hamra by undergraduate Ali Moukhaddar.

“The survey we conducted showed that in the Hamra area, 53% of the buildings were equipped with diesel generators,” said Baayoun who added that the majority of buildings in the area rely on one to two generators, while a few rely on three or more generators, as in some commercial centers. “Approximately 469 generators were presented in the area; 25% of these were at least 10 years old.” The only city that was found to regularly use diesel generators as in Beirut was Delhi, India. While Delhi emitted 3.4 times more pollutants; when normalized per capita, Beirut emissions were 5.6 times more than Delhi.

The vehicle emission study accounted for light-duty vehicles and found that there are 1.8 million cars in Lebanon, increasing in number since 2005 at the rate of around 75,000 cars per year. The emissions of these cars are high because many of them are imported, used, do not meet international regulations, and do not yield to a national scrappage scheme. The average age of the car fleet was found to be 19 years, indicating that the majority of vehicles rely on old specifications and technology for emission.

“We still have a long way to go, but the good news is that as a relatively small country with very limited industrial production and nearly unlimited human creativity, the means for cleaning up our local air are within reach,” said Dean Shihadeh. “In fact, we really have no excuse to not have clean air.”