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Research goes up the wall

In Täppan Building on Campus Norrköping an usual but fun research project is being carried out. A wireless network of sensors, developed as part of the Smart City project, is concealed behind a wall of plants.

Professor Shaofang Gong by the plant wall in Täppan BuildingPlant walls in public buildings are nothing new. Besides being pleasant and damping sound they humidify the air, trap dust and produce oxygen.

The unique thing with the plant wall in Täppan Building is that behind the plants, wireless sensors no larger than matchboxes are concealed. The sensors are developed by professor Shaofang Gong and his communications electronics research group in the Department of Science and Technology.

“In this way we can monitor and collect measurements like temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, VOCs and microparticles. We can also regulate watering, air flow and lighting.”

The research project, financed by the Verification for Collaboration project at Linköping University, is being carried out in collaboration with the Norrköping based company Vertical Plants System. The founder and MD of the company - Ola Weister - contacted the Innovation Office at the university and got into contact with Shaofang Gong and his research group.

“For several years we’ve been working with plant walls in public spaces and we wanted to develop them from being passive walls by passing air through the wall in order to get a better effect. Also we wanted to make good measurements and get proof of the plant walls’ effects.”

In a classroom in Täppan Building there is now a plant wall with sensors. In another classroom there are only sensors, in order to measure the difference. And in addition to that there is a plant wall in a laboratory, a greenhouse where dirty air is passed through the wall and then measurements are taken when it emerges.

“Since last Christmas we have been measuring carbon dioxide and just in that short time we have seen it fall,” says Shaofang Gong. “We will also measure temperature, air quality, microparticles and VOCs,  (volatile organic compounds).”

Plant walls fit in well with Shaofang Gong’s ongoing research project Smart City with the Internet of Things, where the wireless sensors are used to measure and regulate energy consumption in buildings and urban environments. The project is funded by the local foundation Norrköpingsfonden.

As plants have a cooling effect, humidify dry air and as their roots “hoover up” microparticles that are too small to be dealt with by normal ventilation systems, the plant walls can help reduce mechanical ventilation and cooling and thereby reduce energy consumption and save money.

“In the future plant walls could for example be used in eco friendly houses, so called ‘energihus’,” believes Ola Weister.

Plant wall in a shopping mallShaofang Gong can also see new uses.

“In zoos or barns where VOCs are common, plant walls could be very beneficial.

What plants are suitable ?
“It depends on what you want to achieve, if they will be outside or inside in dark or light areas,” says Ola Weister. “We already knew that different plants absorb different substances and have different properties. So we use a mixture. And they should look attractive too.”

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Last updated: 2017-02-13