Imagine a huge electronic vacuum cleaner that would simply suck in smog, cleaning up polluted city air.
It’s still a small scale model for now, but Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde says he has reached an agreement with Beijing’s leaders to test his prototype in a city park next year.
The park would have a vacuum tower in the centre, fitted with ionic filters that charge and remove smog particles, blowing fresh air out of the tower’s side vents. Copper coils buried underground would generate an electromagnetic field that attracts the smog particles.
“By creating a field of ions, all the particles on the nano scale get positively charged, therefore when the ground is negatively charged, you can drag them to the ground, and purify the air – 75 percent, 80 percent more clean. The great thing about the technology is that is safe. It’s already being used in hospitals and it’s very energy-friendly, so to have 30,000 cubic metres of clean air purified, it only uses like 30 Watts, which is like a light bulb,” says Daan Roosegarde.
And there are few cities in the world in need of cleaner air than Beijing. Decades of unrestrained growth have produced an air pollution crisis that city leaders have struggled to address.
Roosegaarde says his technology would help by producing corridors of clean air that would allow the sunlight to shine through. The version he has planned for Beijing should have a cleaning diameter of about 50 metres which would produce results almost immediately, he says. And the artist wants to take his plan one step further. Rather than waste all that smog, he wants to turn it into jewellery.
“We started to look at the smog particles and realised that most of it exists out of carbon. And what happens when you put carbon under a lot of pressure for two or three weeks, you get… diamonds. We are taking a thousand cubic metres of smog air and compressing this in a sort of smog ring, and there will be different versions, so if we compress it really, really a lot, you get like a real diamond-diamond. The largest series will be that we compress it a little bit less so it gets crystallised, so you still see it’s smog, but it’s beautiful and by sharing or selling a diamond ring like that, a smog ring, you donate a thousand cubic meters of clean air to the city of Beijing.”
Roosegaarde acknowledges that projects like this are a way of drawing attention to the problem, rather than a viable solution to Beijing’s air pollution. Real answers would require large scale efforts to create cleaner industry, cleaner cars, and adopt an altogether different lifestyle.
He hopes, however, that his project will make a “radical statement” by allowing the city’s residents to realise the difference between breathing clean and smog-filled air. Furthermore, he adds, Bejing is a good place to test his technology, because it is in a valley so there isn’t much wind.
Daan Roosegaarde is not new to weird ideas: he has already worked on several projects to recycle energy in unusual ways, for example this plan for a road that charges electric cars as they drive or a floor that would generate electricity when danced on.
Whether we will truly manage to make diamonds out of smog remains to be seen. In any case, for Roosegaarde, this project is a powerful symbol, an example, he says, of how one person’s trash can be another person’s treasure.