Munich Whenever it comes to pollution on roads or possible diesel driving bans, they are the focus of interest: large measuring containers at transport hubs of the cities. “But this means that air quality can only be determined at a few points for a lot of money,” says founder Karim Tarraf.
With their start–up Hawa Dawa – which means “healthy air” in Arabic and other languages – Tarraf and his co-founders are setting up a nationwide digital measuring network with low-cost sensors for environmental data in real time, especially in many cities. The measured values are combined with other data such as weather, traffic flows and satellite measurements using algorithms and made available to urban planners and commercial customers.
“This is creating a completely new market with enormous potential,” Tarraf is convinced. The measurements on the containers are very accurate, but limited to a few points. This could lead to massive but ineffective countermeasures that do not really solve the problem, but only shift it to other, unmonitored areas.
The business model of the start-up is not about selling the measuring stations, but about the data. With the help of artificial intelligence, forecasts are to be made, for example, when the air quality could deteriorate and where. Then, for example, traffic flows can be diverted in good time before limit values are exceeded.
There are many areas of application. Hawa Dawa has just received an order from two European capitals to set up a cloud-based, intelligent measurement network. For example, cities want to know when and where excessive levels of particulate matter threaten and what the air quality is like in kindergartens and playgrounds. In the commercial sector, for example, running apps could suggest routes to athletes where the air is as clean as possible.
Hawa-Dawa founders Yvonne Rusche, Matthew Fullerton, Karim Tarraf and Birgit Fullerton (from left)
The start-up is setting up a nationwide digital measuring network with low-cost sensors for environmental data in real time in many cities.
The issue was particularly acute three years ago, when large-scale diesel driving bans were threatened in some major German cities such as Stuttgart. In the meantime, it has become a little quieter around the topic in this country. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that other topics such as the corona pandemic and the Ukrainian war dominate the news. In addition, air quality has improved in many places, also because local measures have had an effect.
But at Hawa Dawa they are convinced that the problem will remain for a long time. This is also shown by data from the World Health Organization WHO. Last year, not a single country was able to comply with the international air quality limits.
The market is worth several billion dollars
WHO recommends that the concentration of small and dangerous air particles should not exceed five micrograms per cubic meter. Only 3.4 percent of the cities surveyed met the standard in 2021. Air pollution levels were measured in 93 cities, which were ten times the recommended maximum values.
Hawa-Dawa CEO Tarraf had worked for the United Nations Environment Programme before developing the idea for the company with his wife Yvonne Rusche and Matthew and Birgit Fullerton. He knows from his own experience how important clean air is for the quality of life. Tarraf grew up in Cairo, his brother suffers from asthma, his parents are lung specialists.
According to industry estimates, the market for measuring stations is worth several billion dollars worldwide and is dominated by the suppliers of large containers such as Thermo Fisher. A container can cost 150,000 euros, including maintenance over the life cycle, a seven-figure sum, says Tarraf. But then only the air quality at exactly this point can be determined.
“For the money, we can equip an entire city with a network of digital measuring stations,” explains Tarraf. The measurement accuracy also meets the regulatory standards, the Tüv has confirmed.
Due to their extremely high accuracy, the large systems are considered standard. However, it is not economically feasible to record the air quality across the board. Hybrid networks, i.e. a combination of a measuring container and a comprehensive system of digital sensors, are conceivable, explains Tarraf. The containers could not only provide the data for their locations, but also verify the measurement accuracy of the other sensors as a reference. The digital networks could also enable measurements in the area.
Hawa Dawa currently has a medium three-digit number of measuring stations in use. Customers in Germany include Mainz, Ulm and Berlin. According to the company, about a third of the population could be covered with 1,500 measuring points in Germany.
Hawa Dawa is currently heading for seven-figure sales. This is just the beginning. “We want to fuel the market,” says Tarraf. Also with regard to the climate crisis, air pollutants should not be overlooked. “If you take the 1.5 degree target seriously, you can’t get past it,” explains the founder.
In the second half of the year, the EU will tighten the guidelines for air quality. “Without a comprehensive measurement network, the cities will not be able to get the problem under control.“