The smog problem in China is horrific. Air quality is so poor in some cities that people mistake the thick air pollution for snow. Residents complain about rarely even seeing the sun.
A good solution, of course, would be to stop burning coal, but until that happens, other solutions are needed and designer Daan Roosegaarde may have come up with a revolutionary idea.
Using copper coils buried underground, the device would create an electrostatic field, which would attract smog particles down from the sky, similarly to how hair is attracted to a balloon.
He describes the ideas as a "electronic vacuum cleaner" and Gizmodo calls it a "smog-devouring vacuum", but I like to think of it more as an underground Tesla coil that gently zaps pollution particles out of the sky. Zap!
Marcus Fairs: Could this be a solution to smog in future?
Daan Roosegaarde: It could be a first step in creating awareness of how bad it really is. Because you see the difference really clearly. Of course the real solution lies in dealing with reality in a different way; it's a human problem not a technological problem. But for sure my goal would be to apply it to parks, to public spaces which are for everyone, where people can meet and enjoy life again.
Marcus Fairs: If you switch it on would you see the smog suddenly disappear into the ground?
Daan Roosegaarde: Yes. You would literally see it on the ground. What I would like to do is capture all that smog and then compress it. So for example you could make a smog ring of all the smog in a cubic kilometre. It would show the reality and question why we accept it.
I like that Roosegaarde is being realistic about the limitations to this design and sees the value it would serve as a consciousness-raising tool. Removing a small, park-sized circle of smog from the sky above Beijing would be like taking a drop out of a bucket, but it would potentially rally opposition to pollution in general, when people are reminded of how bright and clear their city could look without being shrouded in a veil of toxic air.
Here's more from Dezeen on how it works:
Working with scientists at the University of Delft, Roosegaarde created a working prototype of the project last week. "We have a 5x5 metre room full of smog where we created a smog-free hole of one cubic metre," he said. "And now the question is to apply it in public spaces."
"It's a similar principle to if you have a statically charged balloon that attracts your hair," Roosegaarde explained. "If you apply that to smog, to create fields of static electricity of ions, which literally attract or magnetise the smog so it drops down so you can clean it, like an electronic vacuum cleaner."
I'm curious to hear more about the idea, because while it sounds promising, it also seems like the placement in a park could be counter-productive, because the grass or park surface would be constantly coated in smog dust that was pulled from the sky. And as a section of sky was cleared, what would keep the surrounding smog from filling in the open space? Would this not create a cyclical drain effect, bringing all the smog down onto the park?
I suspect these concerns will be addressed in the next 12 to 18 months the project will be in development. And it will be particularly interesting to see Roosegaarde's solution for collecting and compressing the smog particles.
Perhaps Roosegaarde will find that the design works too well and instead of being used to just clear the sky above public parks, it may become a method for removing large amounts of smog from around the tops of buildings, airports, tourist attractions or other areas where visibility is important.