New Study Highlights Need for More Smart Tech to Reduce Car Cabin Air Pollution

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A new study by the University of California, Riverside serves as yet another reminder of the health and environmental benefits of electric vehicles, though that wasn’t necessarily the intention of the research. The UC, Riverside research project specifically focuses on how the carbon air filters in cars fail to filter out smaller particles like carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, and offers a few tips on how car companies and vehicle owners can address the issue.

  • Research by the University of California, Riverside found that pollutants that can affect the health of drivers often go undetected in vehicles.
  • Heejung Jung, the professor who led the UC, Riverside study, is working on a standardized testing procedure for cabin air quality.
  • Professor Jung also has some ideas on how to improve cabin air quality in vehicles, including a new tech device he has developed.

The health concerns about the pollutants from traffic congestion have long been a focal point of the smart mobility movement, birthing a host of ideas aimed at addressing the issues associated with congestion.

From the surge in electric vehicles to congestion pricing, there has been growing number of products and initiatives focused on lessening the impact that car have on our health.
But research done by the University of California, Riverside contends that there is a lot more that can be done to curb some of the smaller pollutants that seep in and circulate inside a vehicle’s cabin.

The University of California, Riverside campus experiences traffic congestion and high levels of pollution. (Photo: UCR)

The bigger effect

The study, led by Heejung Jung, a mechanical engineering professor at UC, Riverside, found that while most cabin air filters in cars are good at removing relatively large particles like pollen and dust, they are not very good at filtering out the much smaller particles from vehicle emissions.

Gases like carbon dioxide, which is exhaled by passengers, and nitrogen oxide, which infiltrates the cabin from vehicle emissions, tend to go unfiltered inside vehicles, which can have a number of negative health effects on drivers and passengers, notes the UC, Riverside study.

According to Jung, air pollutant concentrations we are exposed to on road are, in fact, 10 to 100 times higher than those we inhale in other locations.

Factors like heavy or stop-and-go traffic, ventilation fan speed, vehicle speed, pollutants in outside air, and the number of passengers in the car can also affect cabin air quality.
Jung says closing a car’s windows and choosing a low fan speed for the recirculation setting removes most of the ultrafine nanoparticles that can penetrate human lungs.

More industry accountability

Jung says BMW, Tesla, Toyota and Hyundai/Kia have developed technologies that help to address the issue, but contends that the real solution to the problems lies in making the entire industry more accountable.

“There is no regulation and standard about cabin air quality,” the UC, Riverside professor told Ride, via email. Working with the consultancy company, Emissions Analytics, Jung is developing a standardize testing procedure, so that a car’s ability to clean up and maintain clean air quality can be quantifiable or comparable.

“Once this database is available to the public then they can choose a car based on our rating, then it will encourage OEMs to adopt advanced cabin air quality control technologies,” the professor tells Ride. “We also try to get our testing method adopted by environmental agencies.”

Jung has also developed a new tech device for vehicles that opens the recirculation flap door at specified angles to control the extent of exchange between recirculated and fresh air, which reduces carbon dioxide while keeping particulate matter at acceptable levels.


The UC, Riverside study and findings raises some serious concerns about a health issue tied to vehicles traffic congestion, which tends to get lost in the discussion about smart mobility. More importantly, Professor Heejung Jung’s ongoing work, in collaboration with Emissions Analytics, could help drive carmakers to focus more efforts on developing technology that significantly improves in-cabin air quality.

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