In the past, more than a quarter of Mongolia’s three million citizens lived a nomadic lifestyle, raising livestock for subsistence. However, climate change has forced many people to leave their traditional way of living due to the depletion of suitable grazing pastures. According to a report conducted by the Japanese Ministry of Environment, desertification is impacting seventy percent of Mongolia’s grasslands, which has made the maintenance of pastoral livestock economically infeasible for many families who once subsisted on the practice. As a result, many have moved into the nation’s primate city and capital, Ulaanbaatar, which has seen its population double in the past eighteen years. In addition, facing a significant housing shortage, many of the formerly nomadic people of Ulaanbaatar have set up their mobile houses on the outskirts of the city. These dwellings, known as “Ger’s,” or in English as a yurt, have accumulated on the outskirts of the city forming Ger Districts.

According to the World Health Organization’s report, sixty percent of the city’s population (twenty seven percent of the nation’s total population) lives in Ulaanbaatar’s Ger Districts, numbering approximately 830,000 individuals. These residences, living disconnected from the city’s gas utility system, are forced to burn raw coal to keep warm in the sub-Siberian winter, where the average winter high is -13 degrees Celsius (8.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The burning of raw coal emits Sulfur Dioxide at less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which, according to the EPA, poses significant health risk if inhaled. In fact, according to UNICEF, over the past eleven years, respiratory infections have increased by over 250% with the effects being especially severe on children. UNICEF found that children in Ulaanbaatar had lungs only 40% the function of their rural counterparts.

With such egregious effects on the local community and the central Asian environment, the idea of addressing this issue as an EPICS project was developed. Our goal is to reduce the impact of combusted coal air pollution on the local environment and the Ger district citizenry through the implementation of air filtration units. The high pollutant output of each Ger will require equally robust filtration, and the whole system will have to be powered without the use of the city’s electrical grid. As the Ger district is disconnected from most utilities, so too is the local access to electricity highly unreliable. Thus,
our air filtration system will be connected to an autonomous power source, in the form of solar panels.

We look to build the solar powered filtration system, test it here in the US, and send it to Mongolia where it can be implemented in our community partners dwellings. This is our second semester on the project.