When a ship loaded with coal enters a harbour, soon the entire area might be covered with coal dust. A start-up from Gdynia, Poland, has an idea how to prevent that.

Last year’s summer was rather hard for citizens of Gdynia, a port city in Northern Poland. For many days, clouds of black dust hung over the city centre; dust was covering streets, settling on cars, rushing into flats through tilted open windows. This black dust came from coal stored in a harbor nearby. Townspeople were furious, local media covered the issue broadly, Gdynia authorities set controls on the port and the port authorities had to justify themselves profusely that they did all they could to restrict the amount of dust given off.

Air pollution in harbors

The problem with dust that Gdynia had this summer is not unique. It happens in harbors with bulk terminals where dry commodities such as coal, coke, ore but also grains, feedstuff or biomass are kept. The problematic part isn’t even storage but the moment of reloading. When items are poured from a ship into a wharf their particles rise up to the open air and under unfavorable weather conditions, they are carried across the entire area.

To solve the problem, Gdynia’s port authorities turn to the start-up Sea Data. This new Gdynia-based company has developed a system to analyse and predict air pollution in harbors.

“On the current market, there are mainly separate monitor and analytical measurement systems. We wanted to create a complete solution that can do both. Our platform can not only monitor air status but it also analyses the situation and Artificial Intelligence algorithms based on the weather forecast can predict air pollution at a selected day and time”,  explains Piotr Siedlecki, co-founder of the start-up.

Measure, analyse, predict

YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdańsk.

YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdańsk.

The system consists of two parts: a custom made sensor box (yetibox) and software in the form of an analytical platform (yetiSense). A set of sensors installed in the port and a nearby area can register the level of suspended particles PM10 and PM2.5. Data from the sensors are sent to the analytical platform every 10 minutes 7 days a week. This gives a picture of the current air quality. Data is presented on maps and interactive diagrams. If permitted levels of pollution are exceeded, the system detects the source of pollution and sends alerts to the port authorities. But the invention can do more than that. The platform also collects other data such as current weather conditions, weather forecast and data from sensors belonging to other institutions, for example to environmental agencies. The algorithm based on machine learning analyses all information and estimates the risk of polluting air at a selected time.

Briefly speaking, Sea Data’s invention gives harbors insight into the worst and the best time to reload dry commodities.

“Let’s say that a dispatcher in the harbor knows what day the ship arrives and wants to plan reloading on a particular day. But if our algorithm shows that on that selected time the risk of air polluting will be high, the dispatcher knows he needs to reschedule reloading. This way he can avoid the situation of dust being carried to the city “, explains Piotr Siedlecki.

What to measure

At the beginning, the start-up wanted to develop both the hardware, the sensor box, and the software part. However, recently they stopped working on hardware and concentrated only on the analytical platform. Why? The reason is simple: money. To develop hardware to a stage that it can be sold on the market requires lots of money, much more than a new start-up has. The Polish law doesn’t oblige industrial companies to monitor air quality, therefore investors in Poland are not interested in supporting work on sensors.
The start-up founders emphasize the fact that they wish to get back to the hardware part in the future and now an advantage of their solution is a fact, it’s not restricted to one type of sensors and one type of pollution. “We are able to integrate our platform with a whole range of measuring instruments available on the market and then we can measure any substance, for example Sulfur dioxide, Nitrogen dioxide or toxic gases. It only depends on what clients want to measure”,  says Piotr Siedlecki.
The Sea Data’s solution is currently installed in Gdynia and Gdańsk, two out of the three largest harbors in Poland and the company is in conversation with other harbors, including foreign ones.