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This summer, succulents planted on the roof of an Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) building, the Benno Premselahuis, are going to filter out particulate matter in the polluted Wibautstraat. The 50 square metres of succulents will work as a bed of vacuum cleaners, preventing a large part of the particulate matter from re-entering the atmosphere. The pilot is a joint project from AUAS, UvA/Amsterdam Green Campus and a number of other organisations and is aimed at making the Wibautstraat greener, cleaner and more sustainable.

Abdeluheb Choho, alderperson for Public and Green Spaces, at the opening. c: UvA

The succulents will be ‘fed’ on a diet of algae. This is because recent studies show that specific species of sedum, when fertilised with fresh algae, are remarkably good at cleansing the air of particulate matter. For now, the project is only a one-year pilot, in which researchers will be investigating the extent to which sedum plants can contribute to cleaner air by filtering out particulate matter and carbon dioxide.

Simple measuring method

At the opening, UvA plant physiologist Michel Haring spoke on behalf of one of the participating parties, the Amsterdam Green Campus: ‘This project will attempt to use a "simple"measuring method to establish how plants – in this case, sedum – are able to filter out a certain percentage of particulate matter, the PM10 fraction. The setup of the experiment is simplicity itself: the amount of PM10 particulate matter that lands on a surface will be measured, then compared to the amount that passes through a filter of sedum. A comparison of this kind should enable us to estimate how much is captured by the sedum roof.’ Chiara Cerli, manager and technician of the Physical-Chemical laboratories at the UvA Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, will conduct these measurements, among other tasks, and provides supervision for the experiment. 

If the outcome is successful, the participants hope to explore ways to expand the project: planting the sedum on the median strip of the Wibautstraat, for instance.

Wibautstraat as a testing ground

Along with the Stadhouderskade and the Prins Hendrikkade, the Wibautstraat is among the most polluted streets in Amsterdam. The air quality in and around these busy streets fails to meet European standards due to its high concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

The project involving sedum planted on the rooftop lab of the AUAS is part of The Knowledge Mile. This is a partnership between knowledge institutions and businesses near the Wibautstraat, aimed at making this area greener, cleaner and more sustainable. The goal is also to create a Knowledge Mile Park, complete with green rooftops, facades and pavements along the entire length of the Wibautstraat. Besides the Green Campus and the Knowledge Mile, Algae Innovations Netherlands, Jongkind BV and De Gezonde Stad also contributed to this pilot.