Clean air and smog-free rings, courtesy of the Smog Vacuum Cleaner

September 11, 2015

Industrial innovation over the last few centuries has developed a multitude of mechanical devices, some of which have polluted our environment, particularly with regard to high-density cities in which the majority of the human population on Earth now live. In some cities, such as many of those in China, this pollution is highly visible while in others it may be less so. Nevertheless, the impact on human health is a very real issue. For example, in the Netherlands, the level of atmospheric PM10 pollution, consisting of tiny particles that can be absorbed into the lung where it causes damage, is 30 micrograms per cubic meter in large public areas. This is considerably higher than the 20.1 microgram Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average.

Artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde claims that the smog level in the Netherlands has reduced average life expectancy in the country by 9 months. He believes that human society should do more to make modern cities ‘livable’ again. To this end, Mr Roosegaarde and his team of experts have developed the world’s largest ‘smog vacuum cleaner’, a device called the Smog Free Tower. Studio Roosegaarde worked alongside ENS Europe and Bob Ursem from the Delft University of Technology, with the added assistance of the Smog Free Movement crowd on Kickstarter. The project has also been supported by the City of Rotterdam, the Port of Rotterdam, the DOEN Foundation and Eneco.

The project aims to promote clean skies in urban environments through the creation of ‘smog free bubbles’ in public spaces, allowing people to breathe and experience true clean air for free. It’s not only intended to be a real solution for local air pollution but also aims to provide a sensory experience enabling people to discover for themselves what a smog-free future could be like. The project also acts to empower ordinary citizens so that people become part of the solution to polluted environments alongside governments, non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) and the cleantech sector.

Mr Roosegaarde launched the project on September 4th in Rotterdam at a ceremony attended by the city mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb. The Smog Free Tower works through patented ion technology. The prototype device is 7 meters high and cleans 30,000 cubic metres of air per hour using only as much electricity as a water boiler and running on green energy. It was funded by a Kickstarter campaign launched on July 22nd this year which managed to raise $54,000 and currently stands in a garden at Vierhavensstraat 52 in Rotterdam where it is busily operating and ‘doing its thing’, as Roosegaarde puts it.

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Rotterdam City Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb inspecting the prototype Smog Free Tower with designer Daan Roosegaarde [Image Source: Studio Roosegaarde]

There is an interesting side-line in that the smog dust collected by the tower is being used to create jewelry, incorporating the carbon-containing smog particles. These particles are compressed to make items like the Smog Free Ring and Smog Free Cufflinks. Each item effectively donates 1000 cubic meters of clean air to city environments.

“It’s the largest smog vacuum cleaner in the world” said Mr Roosegaarde in an interview via Skype. “It sucks up the polluted air from the top and purifies it via positive ionisation, charging neutral small particles, the negative ion surface attracts the smog, with positive ions, they can be positively charged. The clean air gets spit out below and that creates a bubble of clean air. It’s mobile, so we can transport it in a day and a half or so.”

The total amount of pollution the device is able to clear naturally depends on the level of pollution present in the first place where the device is deployed. The smog level is measured by an air quality index developed by governments to compare the amount of pollution in various locations.

“So for example, where I am right now in Schipol in Amsterdam, its 33” Roosegaarde explains. “When its 50 in the Netherlands you have to stop building roads and stuff like that because it’s too bad for people. I think when its above 18 or 20, the United Nations already says it’s not healthy anymore. The goal is to purify air as much as possible, that’s what the focus is on.”

Mr Roosegaarde intends to travel around the world presenting the device to city administrations in cities such as Beijing and Mumbai. There’s a delegation from Beijing coming to Rotterdam shortly on a visit, which is why he is now busily mobilizing his team. He also wants to present the project to Mexico City, Paris and possibly also Los Angeles.

“Those cities are our top five right now” he says, “but it’s growing. In the beginning, people say “it’s not possible” and so on, but now, with innovation and everything, we finally have it, people are starting to wake up and so that’s good news. Of course, it’s not the real solution. That comes with clean technology and electrical cars. But I don’t want to wait, I want to operate now and I think by showing what the future could look like, could smell like, could feel like, that creates an intensive connection, to make sure that these great designs are not necessary anymore in 10-12 years.”

Award-winning artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde is known across the world for his futuristic designs that explore the relationship between people and technology. His previous work includes ‘Dune’ and the ‘Smart Highway’. Mr Roosegaarde works from his design laboratory in the Netherlands, Studio Roosegaarde, with a team of designers and engineers. The lab also has a branch located in Shanghai.

Mr Roosegaarde has also won the Accenture Innovation Award, INDEX Award, World Technology Award, Charlotte Köhler Award, two Dutch Design Awards, and China’s Most Successful Design Award. He has presented his work at exhibitions all over the world, including at Tate Modern, the National Museum in Tokyo, the Victoria and Albert Museum and various public spaces in Rotterdam and Hong Kong, and been nominated as Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.