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Cleantech: Youth create hi-tech city trees to fight alarming air pollution in Kosovo

TE Pema
©TE Pema

In 2016, the U.S Embassy in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, started monitoring PM2.5 air pollution and made the data available on the internet. Since then, concerns have been growing over the levels of air pollution, leading citizens in the small Balkan country to protests in the past.

According to data from the Air Quality Index, in 2020 Kosovoranked 68th on the list of the countries with the world’s worst air quality.

An analysis carried out by the UNICEF Office in Kosovo on the impact of air pollution on health revealed that children, young people and pregnant women are worst affected. The report showed that air pollution in Pristina is primarily caused by several factors, including the coal-based thermal power plants outside the city, raw coal and wood used for domestic wintertime heating, industrial activity, and car exhausts combined with winter time thermal inversions that reduce the mixing height in the atmosphere. The amount that each sector contributes to the problem, according to the analysis, remains unclear, which hampers control efforts.

“A lot of attention has been focused on the thermal power plants in Obiliq, with little attention to other sectors. For example, the Kosovo Environmental Strategy 2013-2022 does not mention household emissions as a major contributor to the air pollution problem, although households accounted for 46% of energy consumption in 2003-2005,” stated the report published in 2019.

Hi-tech trees for cleaner air 

Dion Deva, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) & Founder at TE Pema; photo: Leonora Aliu

Two years ago, as a response to Kosovo’s pressing need of cleaner air, a group of young people from Pristina launched the project TE Pema T which translated from Albanian into English means “By the Tree”.  It’s a play of words where T and E stand for Technology and Ecology, while the second T letter signifies the reversed T-letter design of the project.

TE Pema’s tree benches are actually installations that filter air by taking pollutants coming from chimneys, power plants, cars, and other environment polluting agents. They have a system that collects rainwater, which is then filtered and used to automatically water the plants. When there is no rain, these reservoirs can be filled up manually. The trees, which stay green all year round, are also equipped with air quality meters, which show the current level of air pollution in the area.

One TE Pema T installation replaces 70 ordinary trees , saving space in a city that suffers from serious deficit of green areas.

“The idea for a green product came as a result of the need for clean air and green spaces, especially in the capital. Then, when we started with the industrial design of the product TE Pema T. We assessed some problems and special needs of urban spaces that we were able to resolve with the help of modern design and technology” Dion Deva, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) & Founder at TE Pema, told Trending Topics SEE.

TE Pema now saves space in a 1:600 ratio compared to regular planting. The project was implemented through small grants from UNICEF, ICK and the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Prishtina.

Now, through in cooperation with the Municipality of Pristina, which bought some of the manufactured trees, everyone can enjoy them and sit near an air freshener in the main square of Kosovo’s capital.

TE Pema
©TE Pema

“If we think about the name of our product, in our language it makes even more sense. It makes you imagine you are in the nature, near the trees, in peace and comfort. So, as a reference point, we decided to invite everyone to join us near a tree, get some fresh air and enjoy some green environment in the most polluted city in the country,” Dion added.

Spreading the green idea

Even through Pristina has the worst air quality in Kosovo, other cities in the country too suffer from this problem. Thus, the capital was soon joined by the Municipality of Peja in purchasing TE Pema’s city trees. Gjakova, Obliqi, and Deçan Municipality followed suit, all in response to the need of providing more common green spaces for their citizen.

“Our business model is mainly B2G (business to government). Building trust has been one of the many challenges we have faced. We have also struggled with deficit of skilled professionals in the industry. Access to finance is another challenge that we had to overcome in order to create and manage other businesses to finance our projects. Other issues included primitive entrepreneurial policies, weak legal basis for intellectual property, etc.,” Dion Deva told Trending Topics SEE.

Need for clean air solutions rising amid growing urban population

According to Deva, the dynamics of living in the city is constantly increasing. A World Bank report forecasts that by 2045, some 70% of the population globally will be living in urban areas up from 50% now.

“In order to ensure everyone’s well-being and security, we need the right infrastructure, so our goals are to have smart and green cities. Not only the population, but also the infrastructure of the city should  be “alive” and react dynamically,” he said,  adding that TE Pema’s team will continue to invest their revenues in making the country’s cities greener.

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