The world’s first “smog free” tower, co-designed by Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde, sucks in polluted air like a vacuum cleaner and spits out bubbles of smog-free air back into the atmosphere. Amazingly, the metal tower purifies up to 1 million cubic feet of air every hour.
As Roosegaarde told WIRED, “When this baby is up and running for the day, you can clean a small neighborhood.” Right now, the tower sits in the middle of a Rotterdam park, but Roosegaarde plans to embark on a “smog tower tour” this year to demonstrate the tower’s abilities in cities around the globe. Many cities, like Beijing, are in desperate need of an air-purifying savior — some reports say that breathing in downtown Beijing can be as hard on your lungs as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
The Smog Free Tower, which can be described as the world’s largest air purifier, works by ionizing airborne smog particles, which are tiny enough to inhale and can harm the heart and lungs. The top of the tower features a wind-powered radial ventilation system that inhales the dirty air, and then vents in the lower parts regurgitate the air once it’s clean.
Roosegaarde has been the torchbearer of a number of innovative projects, like glow-in-the-dark bike lanes, smart highways, and the Rainbow Station in Amsterdam that creates specific rainbows of light based on astronomy science. So it’s no surprise that the Smog Free Tower idea comes with a quirky twist — the leftover filtered smog particles can also be used to create jewelry.
The smog from 35,300 cubic ft of air can be compressed into individual cubes and mounted on rings and cufflinks. Roosegaarde predicts that the tower would be able to produce over 3,500 cubes a day in areas affected by severe air pollution. Visualizing a compressed cube of smog would likely serve as a shocking reminder of what actually floats around in the air we breathe, so the jewelry could function as both an eccentric trinket and a way to raise awareness about the issues of pollution.
Roosegaarde’s project is about design as much as the initiative to implement innovative technologies to clean up the Earth. “I’m tired of design being about chairs, tables, lamps, new cars, and new watches,” Roosegaarde told WIRED. “It’s boring, we have enough of this stuff. Let’s focus on the real issues in life.”
Recent research warns that more than 3 million people die prematurely each year due to outdoor pollution — more than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined. Even more distressing, that figure will double by 2050 if no action is taken.
“The smog-free tower contributes to a debate that shouldn’t be confined to politics,” says Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, as reported by the Guardian. “Air pollution is a matter that affects us all, and it requires a serious discussion. But we do need innovators like Daan Roosegaarde to start the conversation at another level.”
While the Smog Free Tower could drive forth the movement to clean up the world’s air pollution, Roosegaarde says it’s not the final solution — the real solution lies in building future cities in which the smog towers won’t be necessary.
But for now, the Smog Free Towers could serve as a temporary fix for one of the world’s most pressing problems. The issue with air pollution should certainly rank higher up on everyone’s priorities since it affects us all with every breath we take.
Check out Roosegaarde’s video on his Smog Free campaign here.