This month, a 23-foot-tall outdoor structure that improves the air quality of the surrounding area landed in Rotterdam. Created by Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde and his studio, and recently funded through Kickstarter, the Smog Free Tower is billed as the “largest smog vacuum cleaner in the world.” After it filters smog from the air, it compresses the collected waste particles into cubes that can be embedded into jewelry such as rings and cufflinks — and, hopefully, prompt further conversations about extreme air pollution.
Air pollution is visible in many cities, from Beijing to São Paulo. According to Roosegaarde, people in the Netherlands live nine months shorter due to the amount of smog present in the country’s air. The Smog Free Tower, a steel and aluminum structure whose layered exterior walls resemble drawn blinds, creates pockets of clean air in public space through patented ion technology that filters 30 cubic meters of air every hour. Running on green energy, it uses no more electricity than a water boiler.
“By charging the Smog Free Tower with a small positive current, an electrode will send positive ions into the air,” Studio Roosegaarde told Hyperallergic via email. “These ions will attach themselves to fine dust particles. A negatively charged surface — the counter electrode — will then draw the positive ions in, together with the fine dust particles. The fine dust that would normally harm us is collected together with the ions and stored inside of the tower. This technology manages to capture ultra-fine smog particles, which regular filter systems fail to do.”
Roosegaarde has previously designed other visually striking projects with an environmental function. He has proposed planting bioluminescent trees in place of street lights; last year, he brought “Van Gogh Bicycle Path” to Eindhoven, a glow-in-the-dark bike route energized by solar panels. The Smog Free Tower is more minimal in appearance than these innovations, resembling a sleek redesign of an air purifier, but it commands attention due to its sheer height. And unlike ionic air purifiers sold in stores, which have drawn criticism for (ironically) potentially releasing pollutants, Roosegaarde’s tower does not produce additional irritants.
“We have indeed considered this in our design process,” Studio Roosegaarde said. “We are using a different technique, which resembles the charged plate technique, but which does not create any ozone.
“In short, what makes our technology so unique is its effectiveness against all fine dust, its low-energy consumption, the low maintenance required by our system, its ability to clean large quantities of air at once, and its ability to do so at very high speed.” After its launch in Rotterdam, the Smog Free Tower will travel the world with plans for it to stop in Mumbai and Beijing — the city where its engineers experienced the heavy air pollution that first inspired the concept.