The Smog Vacuum: A Fresh, New Reality

The smog vacuum may sound like some cartoonish solution to climate change. But it just may soon become a reality

By Jody McCutcheon

Surely many citizens of the world’s most polluted cities must wish a gigantic vacuum cleaner would fly over their city and suck up all the smog. And now, that wish may become a reality. To an extent.

The Chinese – and other governments around the world – have long been practising climate alteration. It’s well known that for the Beijing Olympics, government officials manipulated the weather to ensure the sun was constantly shining on all participants. And several years ago, Chinese meteorologists developed a technique to reduce the size of raindrops, delaying precipitation until storm clouds pass.

While weather manipulation is a pretty scary thing (play God much?) and can easily be used as a weapon, it can also be used for good. For example? Now this technology may be used to create a “vacuum cleaner” for smog.

Smog Vacuum

Sucking Up Smog, Small Scale

Dutch designer  Daan Roosegaarde  presented an electronic “vacuum cleaner” for smog at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. The designer is working with the mayor of Beijing to demo the technology in a new city park, which will surely impress the locals.  To best understand how the device works, imagine the way  a statically charged balloon attracts hair.

In a similar fashion, the smog “cleaner” uses coils of copper to create an electrostatic field that pulls smog particles down to the ground, where they’d be captured and compressed. The copper coils would be buried under grass. It sounds a bit dangerous (especially if you’re watering the grass!), but Roosegaarde insists the electric field is harmlessly low.

What’s more, his solution to solving the pollution problem seems more viable and carries fewer potential long-term hazards than nano-particle ‘air-cleaning’ sprays, which are currently being sold though no one is really sure what their impact on human health could be.

Smog Vacuum

Rather than clearing all the pollution from the skies, unfortunately all the smog vacuum can do at the moment is clear up small patches  of smog that are 50 to 60 meters wide. Along with scientists at the Delft University of Technology, Roosegaarde has already produced a working prototype of the smog vacuum. In a 5 x 5 meter smog-filled room, the prototype was able to create a one-cubic-meter smog-free hole. Great, but not exactly enough to solve China’s massive air pollution problem!

Now the challenge is to scale this up for large, outdoor spaces. The team has been testing how high the field can reach, and will spend another 12-15 months at work before implementation in Beijing.

vacuum-cleaner-smog-tower

The solution to Beijing’s smog problem is no doubt much larger than “electronic vacuum cleaners” and an occasional patch of sunshine. But by creating a stark contrast in air quality in the middle of public spaces, Roosegaarde’s project would be an inescapable reminder of how bad the problem really is, not only in China, but all major capitals around the world.  

Images from Dezeen

Jody McCutcheon
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