John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
When you pedal it, the Bangkok Air-Purifier Bike supposedly removes nasty stuff from the atmosphere.
Some of the world's most polluted cities happen to be the most bike-infested – look around China, for instance. But one team of inventors has come up with a way to pit the cyclists against the smog: with a high-tech bicycle that removes bad stuff from the atmosphere as you ride it.
The Air-Purifier Bike is a yet-road-tested electric vehicle from Lightfog, a design-consulting firm based in Bangkok. Lightfog's company background doesn't drift much into cycle design: among other strange products the firm has created a bear trap-shaped dog bowl and the toothsome-sounding Soy Jelly. But the pollution-fighting bike has attracted enough positive attention to win a "concept" award at Singapore's 2014 Red Dot design contest, which provides this description of how the green machine is supposed to work:
Air-Purifier Bike incorporates an air filter that screens dust and pollutants from the air, a photosynthesis system (including a water tank) that produces oxygen, an electric motor, and a battery. While it is being ridden, air passes through the filter at the front of the bike, where it is cleaned before being released toward cyclist. The bike frame houses the photosynthesis system. When the bike is parked, the air purifying functions can continue under battery power.
The prototype comes off looking a bit like a sweet riding vacuum that never got built at Dyson. Among its pluses: a stream of fresh air blowing in your face when you're gunning down the haziest of roads, a slight scrubbing of the general atmosphere if you get a couple thousand or hundreds of thousands of people using them. And the urgency behind the cycle design is certainly on target, what with research arriving every week about how air pollution is killing us all.
Flaws are clear and present, too, the biggest being this two-wheeled air-cleanser doesn't exist. If it did, one might wonder how much it would cost laden with all its environmental systems. Would you have to buy pricey replacement filters, like with a car or a Brita? And presuming that the photosynthesis-generating frame is full of water, maybe like those algae-filled street lights, the added weight burden would be significant (although definitely worth it if a thief tried to cut through the frame, and was blasted in the face with greenish muck).
Still, for a "concept" the Air-Purifier Bike makes a winning journey around the track. Here are some more views of it: