With EIT Climate-KIC’s support, the Bulgarian capital Sofia has found a partner to help tackle its air pollution problems with innovative solutions.

The problem

Air pollution is the main environmental cause of premature deaths among EU citizens. Fine particulate matter was considered responsible for an estimated 436,000 premature deaths in the EU in 2013, nitrogen dioxide for 68,000 and ground-level ozone for a further 16,000.

Sofia, Bulgaria, is Europe’s most polluted capital with high concentration levels of fine particulate matter (PM10). The situation is made worse by the fact that the city is located in a valley with little wind, which leaves the polluted air lingering over the city for prolonged periods of time. According to the WHO, approximately 9,000 people are dying each year in Bulgaria from diseases linked to the low air quality, and the European Commission estimates that the country’s economy loses nearly three billion Euros annually due to indirect health costs resulting from air pollution.

While Karmenu Vella, the EU’s Commissioner for the Environment, points out that air cleanness is not only a problem for Bulgaria but also for the whole European Union and for the world at large, Central and Eastern European countries are particularly affected by air pollution due to still relying on coal and wood for home heating. The heavy use of private cars – the consequence of an out-dated public transport – exacerbates the status quo.

To tackle air pollution, Sofia’s city council published an updated air quality strategy for the period until 2020 comprising technical, regulatory, economic, information and educational measures. However, lengthy bureaucratic processes so far have hindered its implementation. 

The solution

The capital turned to EIT Climate-KIC’s ‘Urban Challenges’ programme to find the best innovative clean air solutions feasible for implementation. Our Urban Challenges programme helps our city partners to define the challenges they face, for entrepreneurs to respond to these challenges at a competitive open innovation pitch event, and for solutions to be tested and implemented to meet real-world needs.

In collaboration with Cleantech Bulgaria, EIT Climate-KIC brought together the best relevant start-ups for the competitive pitch event to present solutions to Sofia’s most urgent challenges: how to motivate behavioural change in people so that they use their cars less often and how to encourage people to shift from one energy source to another. Additionally, the city was seeking ideas to explore retrofit solutions for buildings and cars that would help capture some of the pollutants before they are released into the atmosphere.

The impact

Through this first open innovation initiative in the Bulgarian capital, EIT Climate-KIC and its partners were able to prove that getting fast results is possible even within the context of a municipality.

Furthermore, by combining EIT Climate-KIC’s open innovation pitch event with the high-level conference on clean air SOFAIR, we were able to attract the attention of key representatives from national and international governmental institutions, NGO’s and the business. The diverse European innovation community that came together helped shift the way Bulgarian public institutions think and behave by opening up their typical “closed” business model and instead fostering collaboration.

Through this open innovation competition, the municipality of Sofia received 15 viable solution proposals, of which seven were selected for the boot-camp and pitching event. The municipality finally selected Eljoy as the preferred solution provider, a start-up offering electric bikes, charging stations and maintenance plans. During 2018, the municipality will be piloting the implementation of the solution with 10 bikes installed in the city. Additionally, Sofia municipality has expressed its willingness to further deploy the solutions if their pilot-tests prove successful and find acceptance amongst citizens.

EIT Climate-KIC’s role

Apart from financial support for implementing the Sofia Urban Challenge Phase I, EIT Climate-KIC advised the municipality on its dissemination practices and helped facilitate the pitching event and provided guidance to the municipality in selecting the preferred partner.  

Including Sofia in the EIT Climate-KIC Urban Challenges Programme also raised public awareness that the Bulgarian capital Sofia is actively working towards resolving its air pollution issue.

For further information about our Urban Challenges Programme and our work, please get in touch: ut@climate-kic.org. To find out more about our Open Innovation approach please click here.