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This Tower Scrubs the Air of Smog

The project is intended to draw attention to the problem of air pollution

(Studio Roosegaarde/Smog Free project)
smithsonian.com

Smog, the fine particles of air pollution that obscure views, endanger health and change the weather, is a big enough problem that it has inspired some creative solutions. The latest example of smog-cleaning technology is a 23-foot tower sitting in the middle of a Rotterdam park in the Netherlands. It works by sucking the smog particles out of the air, writes Liz Stinson for Wired.

The Smog Free tower is a project involving Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde, the same innovator who painted a stretch of highway with glow-in-the-dark paint, scheme to make dark, remote roads safer. “I’m tired of design being about chairs, tables, lamps, new cars, and new watches,” he tells Wired. “It’s boring, we have enough of this stuff. Let’s focus on the real issues in life.”

The tower reaches nearly 23 feet into the air and can purify up to one million cubic feet of air per hour. How does it work? By ionizing smog particles, explains Stinson. A researcher at Delft Technology University, Bob Ursem is the expert behind this technology, which was manufactured by company European Nano Solutions. Stinson writes:

Ursem, who has been researching ionization since the early 2000s, says a radial ventilation system at the top of the tower (powered by wind energy) draws in dirty air, which enters a chamber where particles smaller than 15 micrometers are given a positive charge. Like iron shavings drawn to a magnet, the the positively charged particles attach themselves to a grounded counter electrode in the chamber. The clean air is then expelled through vents in the lower part of the tower, surrounding the structure in a bubble of clean air.

According to a press release from Studio Roosegaarde, the tower uses "no more electricity than a water boiler and runs on green energy." In a quirky gimmick, the smog gleaned from the air is compressed into tiny black cubes of carbon and mounted in rings that people can buy to support the project. 

The tower is also supposed to be attractive to behold, with sleek metallic fins and subtle curves to its sides. Roosegaarde hopes that the design will generate interest in the project. He tells Wired that officials in Mexico City, Paris, Mumbai and Beijing are interested in getting their own towers. “We’ve gotten a lot of requests from property developers who want to place it in a few filthy rich neighborhoods of course, and I tend to say no to these right now,” he says. “I think that it should be in a public space.”

However, the tower itself likely isn’t the solution to air pollution because it involves an expensive technology, reports Elisabeth Braw for The Guardian. It may not be the answer to all our problems, but this shouldn’t be the main objective,” says Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb. “The objective must lie in a different perspective, a refreshing approach to a global problem.”

Roosegaarde explains that creating a bubble of clean air might give people the "sensory experience of a clean future." Stepping out of that bubble might just be enough of a shock to spur further innovation and motivate people to attack pollution at its source.

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