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Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2018 Abstracts

Solar Updraft Towers to Clean the Air and Reduce Inversions

Austin Bettridge, Utah Valley University

About 9 million people worldwide die each year due to air pollution related problems. The purpose of our project is to develop an innovative solution to the increasing air pollution problem in Utah, specifically Ozone and PM2.5. Although our project is targeted towards the specific needs of Utah, the research and solutions that we propose here will be applicable globally. Utah has a population of roughly 3 million people and research suggests that by 2050 that population will double, leading to increased emissions from vehicles, homes, and businesses. A recent survey suggests that for Utahns, poor air quality is the greatest negative attribute of their quality of life and one of their strongest concerns. Utah has geographically unique problems contributing to air pollution in that it sits in a valley with mountains surrounding it making a “bowl” shape which allows inversions. An inversion occurs when cooler air settles in the valley, trapping pollutants, forming thick smog. This prevents sunlight from warming the ground, reducing air movement. The cold air stagnates and can’t be removed until a pressure change occurs with an incoming storm. The smog consists of NOx, SOx, CO2, CO, PM10, PM2.5, and ozone, which cause various environmental and health problems. Our solution is a build solar updraft towers (SUTs) at multiple locations around the valley. A solar updraft tower consists of a large area of clear greenhouse material connected to a very tall, central tower or stack. The sun passes through the greenhouse material, warming the ground and air underneath. This results in a net flow of air toward and up the tower. The SUT can reduce air pollution and prevent the associated health problems in three ways. 1) The thermally generated wind at the base of the tower can be harnessed using wind turbines to generate electricity. This will be green energy that does not require the burning of fossil fuels. 2) Electrostatic and absorption filters will be installed within the tower to remove pollutants from the incoming air. 3) During an inversion, the wind turbines can be externally powered to move cold air out of area, removing pollutants, thus reducing the length of the inversion.