Senior Lecturer and Director, Plants and Environmental Quality Research Group, UTS

Dr Fraser Torpy is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the Plants and Environmental Quality Research Group from the University of Technology Sydney. Fraser’s team produces world-leading research on the relationship between plants and urban environmental quality ­- in particular, the capacity of green wall technology and urban greening to mitigate air pollution, both within buildings and through the wider urban environment. He has almost 20 years’ experience in horticultural biotechnology, and his team’s work has been instrumental in broadening the understanding of how plants can contribute to improved air quality in cities. Dr Torpy’s current research emphasis is on several aspects related to air pollutant mitigation with green wall technology in high value urban settings.

Presentation: ‘Sustainable urban environmental quality with horticultural biotechnology’ - Air pollution has become a major health concern in cities. We have known since the early 1980s that potted plants and their substrates have the natural ability to remove many of the most dangerous pollutants from the air. Since that time, laboratory and building trials have demonstrated that plant systems can reduce the levels of almost all of the indoor air pollutants that affect human health, at rates that are only limited by how many plants can fit in a room. Air circulating inside buildings can contain a cocktail of polluted air that comes into a building from outside and mixes with pollutants from indoor sources, having a very real impact on our health. This can be a particular problem with VOCs (volatile organic compounds), a group of chemicals released from plastics and synthetics such as carpets, furniture, glues, computers, detergents and paints. The latest research has built on these findings, with active green wall systems, using fans to pump polluted air through the plant growth substrate, showing air remediation capabilities that exceed current mechanical air cleaning systems, at a fraction of the energy use. The great future potential of these systems is outdoors on city streets, where the huge capacity of botanical air cleaning systems could be used to mitigate much of the health impact of urban air pollution.