How Can Blockchain Technology Be Leveraged to Fight Air Pollution?


The concern for the purity of air is rising globally. The most important toxic component in the air perhaps is PM2.5. This particle is so small that it can borough into the finest capillaries of one’s lungs, causing cancer and other serious health problems.

The main causes of poor air quality are the burning of low-quality fossil fuels, vehicular emissions, and construction work, amongst others. The only way to save yourself from the ravages of air pollution is to monitor air quality in high-risk spots assiduously. But the problem is that air pollution monitoring systems currently suffer from three big problems: cost, reliability, and scalability.

Blockchain as a solution for air pollution

Data is king, and this is why blockchain technology is so crucial for fighting air pollution. Most people connect blockchain with cryptocurrency software, but it has major applications in several other areas like healthcare, recruitment, and pollution control. This is because a blockchain is a decentralized and public database. Information and air pollution data gets stored in ‘blocks’ that are tamper-proof and completely immutable. Once entered, the information can’t be altered. And this information can only be accessed with codes that are provided solely to those who have permission to access this data.

This ledger of information can easily be shared among a network of devices too.

For air pollution data, sensors from a distributed network of pollution monitoring devices can input data on this ledger. Once this happens, the data can then be traded among the devices on a blockchain by making payments.

All data is public and unalterable, meaning that if a polluting industry tried to buy up all of the data implicating them, they would not be able to tamper it or hide it from the public, or even delete the data.

How does blockchain work in surveillance of air pollution?

How it works is that individuals own sensors for air pollution monitoring. These include sensors installed at homes, wearable devices, and smartphones. All these sensors can be connected to create a mesh network in which each device can relay data to the network or blockchain. Thus there is an open market on blockchain for data. Small businesses or individuals setting up air pollution sensors sell air pollution data to the market on the blockchain.

Technologies have been created to make this possible. Household air can be monitored too, and sold to big companies. It’s also important to know that these sensors can connect to other such devices using secure mesh networking over radio links. So data can be offered to companies in return for money, meaning that it is sold. It is then used to identify heavily polluting plants or areas.

These companies, in turn, report the polluting factories to the government in return for fees.

Because blockchain is completely transparent, the public comes to know the facts too, and these can’t be altered or deleted.

An example of blockchain for air pollution monitoring is provided by the Massachusetts-based tech company Algorand. It is building the world’s first air quality monitoring system using blockchain. It wants to leverage the power of real-time air quality data reporting. The current air pollution monitoring system lacks this, resulting in delays and even a lack of warnings to endangered populations.

A few scientists, however, don’t think that blockchain is useful for fighting air pollution. They feel that it is not a promising environmental solution, but dangerous for the environment. Blockchain systems used for cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are incredibly energy-intensive. All those billions of calculations to mine bitcoin actually use lots of computer power and electricity. This electricity is often powered by coal and other fossil fuels, and this is extremely detrimental to the environment.

Studies show that blockchain and bitcoin and other cryptocurrency computations use more electrical energy than Ireland. Perhaps they are right, even if only a tiny bit. Blockchain keeps environmental data secure, but the rainforest being cleared on the ground in the Amazon forest needs interventions that will save more trees from being cut down. It does make sense and surely requires more thought and debate.

The gaps in the ‘blockchain for air pollution’ chain

The blockchain is still maturing. It is in a state of infancy, according to some. A fully developed blockchain and lower costs of accessing data will drive more actual change.

But, all said and done, blockchain remains an immensely promising tool that can revolutionize how we as a people deal with air pollution. It could save millions of lives, save several species from disappearing, and prevent global warming.

We can safely say blockchain technology holds a great deal of promise for air pollution monitoring, and it’s time people took notice of this groundbreaking technology.