The Smog Free Tower is flanked by old smokestacks in Beijing. Damir Sagolj/Reuters

A Dutch designer has debuted a pollution-eating tower in Beijing, and hopes to install 800 more in public parks across China.

Air quality is so poor in Beijing that on bad days it’s hard to see buildings across the street. Strategies to live more safely in such an environment abound, and no wonder: The journal Nature recently found that air pollution leads to the premature death of three million people every year, mainly in Asia.  

In addition to pervasive face masks, kids in the capital’s international schools play sports under protective domes. A British artist based in Beijing created a wacky-looking “breathing bicycle,” which filters air as the rider pedals, delivering it through a tube that snakes up to a breathing mask.

One of the latest in this array of pollution problem solvers is a tower that takes in smog and releases clean air. Last week, the Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde debuted his “Smog Free Tower” in Beijing’s 798 arts district, a former industrial zone. Set among old smokestacks, the metal tower reaches 23 feet and looks like what it is: an enormous version of a home air purifier.

The tower works by sending positive ions into the air, which attach to fine particles, including PM 2.5, the particulate matter that is especially hazardous to our health. A negatively charged surface (called a counter electrode) then brings the ions and their attached particles back in to the tower, where they are collected and stored. The tower subsequently spews out cleaner air through vents. (Roosegaarde uses the collected particles to make “Smog Free Jewelry” in the form of rings and cufflinks.)

The designer of the Smog Free Tower, Daan Roosegaarde, holds up smog particles collected by his contraption. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Roosegaarde told Motherboard that the air surrounding the tower has up to 70 percent fewer pollution particles after it’s been cleaned. And since installing the tower in Beijing, he reported to CNN that it collects in one day what it brought in over the course of two weeks of testing in the Netherlands.

The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection is supporting Roosegaarde’s venture, and has asked him to take the tower on a tour of four other cities in the coming year. Roosegaarde hopes that this is only the beginning. He aims to install 800 of his towers in public parks across China, not only to create pockets of cleaner air, but to bring more awareness to what is admittedly a huge problem that a giant air purifier—or even 800 of them—can’t begin to solve.

“We need a bottom-up effort, both with citizens and governments actively working for change,” Roosegaarde told CNN. “My hope is that one day in 10 or 15 years, we’ll look back at [the tower] and find it obsolete.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    If You Drive Less Than 10,000 Miles a Year, You Probably Shouldn't Own a Car

    Up to one-quarter of all U.S. drivers might be better off using ride-sharing services instead.

  2. Transportation

    How Seattle Bucked a National Trend and Got More People to Ride the Bus

    Three experts in three very different positions weigh in on their city’s ridership success.

  3. Construction workers build affordable housing units.
    Equity

    Why Is 'Affordable' Housing So Expensive to Build?

    As costs keep rising, it’s becoming harder and harder for governments to subsidize projects like they’ve done in the past.

  4. Equity

    The Side Pittsburgh Doesn't Want You to See

    Pittsburgh filmmaker Chris Ivey has spent over twelve years documenting the lives of the people displaced so that the city can achieve its “cool” status.  

  5. Maps

    Mapping Where Europe's Population Is Moving, Aging, and Finding Work

    Younger people are fleeing rural areas, migrating northward, and having fewer children. Here’s how that’s changing the region.