The Pollution Alchemists

Coronavirus lockdown’s clear skies and fresh air will soon disappear in a puff of smoke. To make progress on pollution we need practical, game-changing ideas. Three companies have already started.

Image S. Hermann and F. Richter: Pixabay

Once Lockdown Ends

It would be wonderful if the swift action that closed the world down in four weeks could be applied as decisively and collectively to solving the pollution crisis. But the urgency of escaping a mad axeman is always going to eclipse slow death by a thousand cuts.

Image: Maxx Girr, Pixabay
Air pollution in Delhi. Image: alvpics, Pixabay.


Anirudh Sharma is founder of MIT spin-off Graviky Labs. He is a multi-award-winning designer and inventor from India who “loves problem-solving and building technologies that have a real visible impact on people’s lives.”

Air-Ink. Image courtesy of Tiger Beer.

“What if we could use the ugliness in the air to make our streets more beautiful?”

It takes 45 minutes of tailpipe pollution to produce 30 millilitres of ink. The process is still expensive, although Air-Ink now produces paints, marker pens and screen-printing ink. They would love to be part of the printer ink cartridge business, but that is the holy grail for now.

Street artist Buff Monster’s art in New York. Image: Tiger Beer

Smog Eaters

In 2016, during Beijing Design Week, Dutch architect, artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde created a 7-metre tall Smog Free Tower. A kind of vacuum cleaner for polluted air using “positive ionisation technology”.

Smog Free Tower, Korea Image: Studio Roosegaarde
A Smog Eating billboard in Mexico. Image: Roosegaarde Studios

“I don’t believe in Utopia, but in protopia.”

Perhaps the most quirky invention is the limited edition Smog Free Ring, not just a cool accessory but apparently used as an engagement and wedding ring by environmentally-friendly couples. The ring, launched in a Kickstarter campaign, is a perspex cube containing compressed smog particles from the smog eating towers and which “donates 1000 cubic metres of clean air to the city.”

Smog Free biciycles clean the air as you pedal, while a smog free ring contains a dark secret …Images: Roosegaarde Studios

Pollutant-Reducing Cement

Italcementi is located in Milan, Italy, at the epicentre of the country’s coronavirus epidemic. It also has a subsidiary, Essroc Cement in North America. They have developed a cement called TXActive®. It contains titanium oxide and when it’s exposed to sunlight, it breaks down atmospheric pollutants. Theoretically if just 15 percent of buildings and roads in a city used the cement, it could reduce 50% of air pollutants.

Italcementi’s “city of the future” with buildings coated in pollution reducing cement. Image: Italcementi.

Pragmatism is the Way Forward

These three innovators are just a sample of the clever thinking that is happening around air pollution. Of course they would like to eliminate it at source but that is not going to happen, even after a global pandemic in which air pollution has played a part. Their pragmatic solutions ingeniously incorporate the pollution and then use it to make something better.

British Writer, Editor in Tuscany, Italy. Topics: Nature, Ancient History, Spirituality. twitter: @writerinitaly

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