Aerocount about air pollution: we’re lagging behind

Everyone in the Netherlands smokes two packs of cigarettes a week – without even noticing it. Not because we’ve all suddenly decided to start smoking, but because of air pollution. Beate Stevens decided it was about time someone did something about it. That’s why she developed a particulate matter detector and founded AeroCount in 2020. “AeroCount started as a lab project during my studies and has grown into a full-fledged company. Our motto? Achieving clean air for all.”

How is AeroCount tackling this issue and making our air cleaner? “Our particulate matter detector is on the market, which is a great start. And as someone with a technical background, I’m a big fan of the idea of ‘through measurement to knowledge’ – but we need to do more.” Beate explains that besides knowing the air quality, people also need to take action. “You can conclude that there are too many particulates in the air, but that doesn’t solve that issue.”

The logical outcome

In order to progress beyond measurements, there were two logical next steps for Beate and her team. “On the one hand, we wanted to create more insights into air quality, which is why we’ve also developed a NO2 meter. The particulate matter detector has also evolved greatly since its introduction. Users now automatically get an email notification if the concentration of particulates is too high – and we can communicate with other devices too. This all makes it even easier to transition from measurement to action.”

To further improve the particulate matter detector, AeroCount is conducting research. Their first pilot, in cooperation with Radboud UMC, focused on children with asthma. “Sometimes, doctors see that asthma symptoms worsen or lung function decreases, but don’t know why this happens. We’ve started measuring particulates at different locations in these kids’ living environments: the bedroom, the kitchen, and outside the house. Our first results show that the data is very dependent on the location: there are local sources both inside and outside. That’s why we’re doing a second pilot soon. We can help improve people’s lives by measuring!”

But there’s still more to be done; measuring is just the beginning. “That’s why we’ve started developing an air filter. However, that turned out to be quite tricky. Almost everyone who works here has been academically trained: we all know the theory of it quite well, and we can do fundamental experiments. But theory and practice do not always overlap, so several prototypes were needed. 

Complex but not impossible

Air pollution is a complex problem that can’t be solved by just one person. But there’s one thing Beate knows for sure: something has to be done. “Look at COVID, for example. It took a very long time before we realised how useful proper ventilation can be. The energy crisis, too: burning wood is a cheap way to stay warm, but breathing in wood smoke is very bad for you.”

By sharing their knowledge, AeroCount wants to make sure people take action locally. “The very first step is people recognising the causes of the fluctuations in the particulate matter levels. After that, they need to understand why that’s happening. The final step in this process is to convert that awareness into action: what’s the source of the particulates? Is it coming from inside the house or outside of it?”

The world of sales

Beate is quick to admit that sales was a bit of a challenge for her. “Everyone at AeroCount has a lot of experience with science and research but not as much with sales. Briskr’s sales workshops were very valuable because they allowed us to get to know the other sides of running a business.”

Before the particulate matter detector can be used by doctors and patients, AeroCount needs a medical CE marking. “I think it makes sense that the requirements for a medical CE mark are more difficult than the CE mark for commercial goods, but it’s also a new challenge. The certification is divided into classes, but I didn’t know which one would apply to our product: how do you figure that out? Briskr’s network has given me the chance to request some more information and ask questions in advance. This really inspired more confidence in both myself and my business!”

The photographer is: Erik Hullenaar.