Pollution busting flags could bring breath of fresh air for petrol stations

  • Specially treated material removes harmful nitrogen oxide from the atmosphere.
  • Leading forecourt operators interested in benefits of catalytic flags and banners.
  • Environmentally friendly brands are expected to adopt air purifying formula on petrol forecourts over the next 18 months.


A pollution busting formula pioneered by scientists at the University of Sheffield could soon be used to help reduce traffic emissions at petrol stations.

Treating advertisement flags at petrol station forecourts with the pioneering catalytic solution, which removes harmful nitrogen oxide from the air, would help to dramatically cut pollution caused by traffic.

The formula has already been used in an innovative collaboration with the London College of Fashion to create clothes which clean the air while they are worn, and also to create the world’s first air cleansing poem.

The In Praise of Air poem, by award-winning writer Simon Armitage, Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield, is printed on material measuring 10m x 20m which is coated with microscopic pollution-eating particles of titanium dioxide which use sunlight and oxygen to react with nitrogen oxide pollutants and purify the air.

Displayed in the centre of Sheffield on one of the busiest routes into the city, the catalytic poem has helped to absorb the pollution from 20 cars every day since it was erected back in May 2014.

Its success has now inspired the potential roll out of catalytic flags to help reduce pollution at petrol stations.

Professor Tony Ryan, who came up with the idea of using treated materials to cleanse the air, said: “The beauty of the poem and its catalyst is that they have essentially the same mechanism, they effect a reaction without being changed themselves.

“The poem’s language is a provocation to change people’s minds about the quality of our air, whereas the catalyst uses oxygen and sunshine as a reagent to neutralise a harmful pollutant - so both of them cleanse the air.”

The catalytic poem was manufactured by Northern Flags who also produce promotional flags and banners for petrol forecourts.

Managing director of Northern Flags, Iain Clasper-Cotte, said: “We have been in discussions with many leading forecourt operators and outdoor display contractors. Many are interested in the potential benefits and we expect to see a slow adoption of it with a number of environmentally focussed brands over the next 18 months.

“This is an exciting opportunity to make a really positive impact on the environment around the areas where these flags and banners are displayed.

“Frequently these are in areas of major traffic or pedestrian use therefore the cleaning properties can have a tremendous impact.

Medium“Point of sale and construction are two obvious areas which could benefit from catalytic technology as they are around the places where people live and breathe so an opportunity to minimise pollution is essential.”

In Praise of Air is set to be back on public display on the University’s Alfred Denny Building, on Western Bank this weekend for the second stint of the extraordinary exhibit.

The second edition of the poem has been printed on a new substrate called ‘Aventos Geomesh’ which capitalises on the advances made with the catalytic titania formulation allowing the treatment of non-absorbent materials. This gives an installation which is better suited to the climatic conditions and more effective.

Dr Joanna Gavins, from the University’s School of English and project manager for the catalytic poem collaboration, said: “I’m delighted the poem will be back in place this weekend. It became such a familiar feature of the University landscape so quickly last year and the Alfred Denny Building wall has seemed empty without it.

“Poetry has the potential to really lift the spirits and ‘In Praise of Air’ carries a positive and inspiring message.

“The fact that the poem is also cleaning the Sheffield air each day it’s in position is a fantastic added bonus!”

Dr Gavins added: “We had a wonderful response to catalytic poetry from the public when ‘In Praise of Air’ was first installed. It really seemed to capture people’s imaginations and there was lots of interest on social media and across the international press.

"The most rewarding thing for me was seeing so many people stopping on the pavement underneath the poem to read it, or looking out of bus and car windows as they queued on the A57.

“I’d love to see more catalytic poems spring up in other locations. We could have catalysed poems on public transport, in our workplaces, in schools and hospitals - the possibilities are endless and the impact on the environment could be really positive!”

Additional information

The University of Sheffield
With almost 26,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.
A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.
In 2014 it was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.
Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
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For further information please contact:

Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859