We first covered Roosegaarde Studio’s smog eating tower in 2015, before it was built and sent to China. I noted at the time that “Daan is an artist and provocateur as well as an inventor, so a project like this is going to do a lot more than just clear the air. It has to make a statement. and make the invisible (or at least only partially visible, like smog) visible.”
I interviewed him about it at the time, while covering the INDEX: Design to improve life awards, where he was a judge.
I have not written about it since, because I really wanted to see the results; is this art, is this a provocation, or is this a practical device? More importantly, is this actually a solution the problem of pollution or is it just a local band-aid?
In fact, the results are in, and it actually does work. The Smog Free Tower is a form of electrostatic precipitator where particles are ionized and then attracted to a charged screen. Roosegaarde then collects the dirt and turns it into jewellery. And it does clean the air; according to Prof. dr. Bert Blocken, Eindhoven University of Technology,
The Smog Free Tower works with the proven ENS technology of positive ionization to remove large fractions of particulate matter from the air in its immediate surroundings. Both the technology and the Smog Free Tower itself have been successfully evaluated with both field measurements and numerical simulations with Computational Fluid Dynamics. The results confirm that the tower captures and removes up to 70% of the ingested PM10 and up to 50% of the ingested PM2.5. For a tower in an open field in calm weather, this provides PM10 reductions up to 45% and PM2.5 reductions up to 25% in a circle with diameter of more than 20 m around the tower. When the tower is applied in semi-enclosed or enclosed courtyards, the beneficial effects can be much larger.
Now Daan has introduced the smog-free bicycle. It will be interesting to see the results of this:
The innovative bicycle inhales polluted air, cleans it, and releases clean air around the cyclist. The bicycles will work in similar ways as the Smog Free Tower and provide a healthy and energy friendly solution for urbanites, combatting both traffic congestion and pollution issues in the city.
But it is a much smaller device, and it is on a moving vehicle. I would have thought that all of the cleaned air would instantly mix with all of the other air. Perhaps if there was a hose from the handlebars to a mask, I could see it working. I also worry that we should spend more time fixing the source of the problem, that putting on masks and building giant air filters is more an admission of failure rather than a step forward. But hey, Dann is right about this:
“Beijing used to be an iconic bicycle city. We want to bring back the bicycle as a cultural icon of China and as the next step towards smog free cities.”
Because he is such a provocateur, I am sometimes tempted to take Daan Roosegaarde’s ideas with a grain of PM2.5 particulates. But he has shown time and time again that his ideas actually do become a working reality. I look forward to riding this bike. Read more at Studio Roosegaarde.