Low-Cost Sensing Assists Climate Adaptation
'What gets measured gets managed' is a well-known adage in business, but could it also be applied to mitigating the effects of climate change? The recently published IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report emphasizes the importance of adaptation alongside emission reduction. Tracking the effects of climate change is crucial in informing policy to reduce its effects.
Adapting to climate change could take various forms, from changing the areas in which specific crops are grown to building flood defense systems and even relocating cities in more extreme cases. Deciding what adaptation steps to take, as well as justifying what may be expensive and disruptive pre-emptive changes to taxpayers or shareholders, will require extensive data on variables ranging from the well-known sea levels and climate measurements to soil fertility, water quality, agricultural output, and more.
This demand for real-time data, ideally as granular as possible, is likely to create a significant opportunity for low-cost, wirelessly connected sensors. Rather than occasional testing of parameters by a technician, or costly specialist monitoring stations, cheap wireless sensors can be widely distributed and hence provide greater insight by providing a continuous data stream. For example, the flow levels and water quality can be monitored throughout a catchment area, enabling shortages or pollutants to be identified at an early stage and remedial action taken.
Printed electronics is ideally suited to providing the low-cost, widely distributed sensing infrastructure required to track the effects of climate change and hence inform which adaptive steps to take. Printed sensors, capable of detecting temperature, gas concentration, water quality, soil moisture, and more, can be produced extremely cost-effectively at high volumes via continuous roll-to-roll manufacturing. Furthermore, when combined with energy harvesting such as via printed photovoltaics, a printed antenna, and a microcontroller (either mounted on a conventional circuit board or on a flexible substrate via flexible hybrid electronics), such devices can be self-sustaining.
As an example, Brewer Science are targeting water quality monitoring with its printed sensor technology. Using a functional printed material to detect specific analytes within a low-cost sensor, then sending information to the cloud for subsequent processing, provides water suppliers with real-time water quality monitoring across their network. Such sensors could easily be applied to natural water courses, and potentially combined with printed capacitive sensors to monitor the volume of water.
Adapting to the effects of climate change is likely to be challenging for many, but making sensible, timely, and justifiable decisions is generally easier with a comprehensive data set. As such, printed electronics can help us reduce the impact of climate change not just through technologies like printed photovoltaics and more sustainable electronics manufacturing, but also by low-cost printed sensors making it easier to monitor its effects.
To learn more about any of the printed/flexible sensor technologies featured in this article, including from both a technical point of view and in terms of market size and forecast, please see the IDTechEx report "Printed and Flexible Sensors 2022-2032: Technologies, Players, Markets".
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