The new green face of higher education

Thursday 13 September 2012

Scientists at Staffordshire University are leading pioneering research in to green walls in their bid to discover the “perfect plant” to reduce pollution and promote biodiversity in towns and cities.

While significant research into the development of green roofs has occurred both outside and inside the UK - with evidence supporting their environmental performance and biodiversity value - biologists and ecologists at Staffordshire University say little is being done to understand the benefits of green walls. Caroline Chiquet, 27, is undertaking a PhD research on the animal biodiversity and wider environmental value of green walls in urban areas at the University's Stoke-on-Trent campus.

She said: “Green walls can be fitted to both new and existing buildings and even inside them or as separate free-standing structures. They can provide a quick amenity to urban spaces and have many benefits that are yet to be fully understood.

"We aim to find the ‘perfect’ plant to use in a green wall to reduce the number of pollution particles in the atmosphere and increase biodiversity in the urban spaces which they are placed."

The scientists will test effectiveness of different plants used in the 'living' wall using a state-of-the-art Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope which forms part of the university’s new £30 million Science Centre.

Caroline, who moved from France two years ago to undertake the research at Staffordshire University, says she is also using the green walls and the different types of plants within them to establish the spreading of animal species into a new habitat and monitor the developing ecosystem.

The research will also gauge the affects of growing on a vertical surface.

"The challenge of growing on a vertical surface is relatively unknown; we don’t know for instance how this will impact on the growth of certain plants or how it will affect the interactions of the plants."

The large ‘living walls’, which contain both flowering plants and non-flowering plants in order to compare the invertebrate biodiversity within them, were erected in May as part of the university’s multi-million pound investment into their Stoke-on-Trent campus.

There are four green walls in total, each made up of interlocking modular rockwhool panels 100cm wide and 60cm in height. The largest wall is almost 2.5m high and irrigation lines run from the top to provide water and fertiliser for around 3,000 plants which sprout through holes on the side.

Professor John Dover, who is supervising Caroline’s PhD study, says the green wall is just one of the initiatives the University has undertaken to improve its environmental impact, and revealed the green wall will help fulfil a number of future research endeavours.

"The green wall is very adaptive to new research areas for the university; for instance we could change the focus of our research to discover the best plants for for attracting a particular type of insect.

"They can also act like outdoor air conditioning systems, cooling the atmosphere in hot countries and providing warmth in cooler climates and of course more simply they can improve the health or wellbeing of people living and working in cities."

Staffordshire University Environmental Manager, Adam Van Winsum, said: “The green wall installation represents Staffordshire University’s ambition and commitment to projects which will aid the development of sustainability at the university and in the wider region.

"We hope this research and its findings will not only help shape the future of this university but that it will lead the way in the creation of best practices across the UK."