Performance characterization of low-cost air quality sensors for off-grid deployment in rural Malawi

Ashley S. Bittner, Eben S. Cross, David H. Hagan, Carl Malings, Eric Lipsky, Andrew P. Grieshop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Low-cost gas and particulate matter sensor packages offer a compact, lightweight, and easily transportable solution to address global gaps in air quality (AQ) observations. However, regions that would benefit most from widespread deployment of low-cost AQ monitors often lack the reference-grade equipment required to reliably calibrate and validate them. In this study, we explore approaches to calibrating and validating three integrated sensor packages before a 1-year deployment to rural Malawi using colocation data collected at a regulatory site in North Carolina, USA. We compare the performance of five computational modeling approaches to calibrate the electrochemical gas sensors: k-nearest neighbors (kNN) hybrid, random forest (RF) hybrid, high-dimensional model representation (HDMR), multilinear regression (MLR), and quadratic regression (QR). For the CO, Ox, NO, and NO2 sensors, we found that kNN hybrid models returned the highest coefficients of determination and lowest error metrics when validated. Hybrid models were also the most transferable approach when applied to deployment data collected in Malawi. We compared kNN hybrid calibrated CO observations from two regions in Malawi to remote sensing data and found qualitative agreement in spatial and annual trends. However, ARISense monthly mean surface observations were 2 to 4 times higher than the remote sensing data, partly due to proximity to residential biomass combustion activity not resolved by satellite imaging. We also compared the performance of the integrated Alphasense OPC-N2 optical particle counter to a filter-corrected nephelometer using colocation data collected at one of our deployment sites in Malawi. We found the performance of the OPC-N2 varied widely with environmental conditions, with the worst performance associated with high relative humidity (RH >70 %) conditions and influence from emissions from nearby residential biomass combustion. We did not find obvious evidence of systematic sensor performance decay after the 1-year deployment to Malawi. Data recovery (30 %-80 %) varied by sensor and season and was limited by insufficient power and access to resources at the remote deployment sites. Future low-cost sensor deployments to rural, low-income settings would benefit from adaptable power systems, standardized sensor calibration methodologies, and increased regional regulatory-grade monitoring infrastructure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3353-3376
Number of pages24
JournalAtmospheric Measurement Techniques
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 9 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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