Technology

Pollution-guzzling, Air-cleaning Buildings

May 23, 2014 | by Janet Fang

Photo credit: Smog-eating pavilion design for 2015 Milan Expo / Nemesi & Partners
 
Seven million premature deaths in a single year were the result of air pollution exposure, the World Health Organization reported recently. That’s one in eight of total global deaths in 2012. This new finding doubles previous estimates, confirming that air pollution is now the world’s single largest environmental health risk. Cities around the world are increasingly turning to technology for solutions, and here are some of the most innovative designs. 
 
Palazzo Italia, Milan. A façade for the pavilion will be built using air-purifying, “biodynamic” cement, which removes pollutants from the air and turns them into inert salts. Apparently, the material from Italcementi only adds 4-5 percent to the construction costs. Designed by architectural firm Nemesi & Partners, the jungle-inspired shell will cover 13,000 square meters across six floors, and it’s set to launch at the 2015 Milan Expo. Scientists in the Netherlands have adapted the photocatalytic material to roads, claiming it can reduce nitrous oxide concentrations by 45 percent.
 
Manuel Gea González Hospital, Mexico City. Last year, the hospital unveiled a "smog-eating" façade covering 2,500 square meters. The titanium dioxide coating reacts with ambient ultraviolet light to neutralize elements of air pollution, breaking them down to less noxious compounds like water. This was Berlin-based Elegant Embellishment’s first full-scale installation, and its designers claim the façade negates the effects of 1,000 vehicles each day. Funded by Mexico’s Ministry of Health, the project is part of a three-year, $20 billion investment into the country’s health infrastructure.
 
In Praise of Air, UK. This gigantic 10x20 meter poster with the poem by Simon Armitage sucks up air pollution. Tony Ryan of University of Sheffield and colleagues created the poster, which contains microscopic titanium dioxide nanoparticles that can absorb about 20 cars’ worth of nitrogen oxide a day. It would add less than $200 to the cost of a giant advertisement. The team envision billboards made of the same material posted along highways and congested roads. 
 
Catalytic Clothing. The poem is actually an offshoot of this collaboration between designer Helen Storey and Ryan. Their goal is to incorporate the titanium dioxide nanoparticles into laundry detergent to coat clothing. According to Ryan, one person wearing the nanoparticle-washed clothes could remove 5 to 6 grams of nitrogen dioxide from the air a day; two pairs of jeans could clean up the nitrogen dioxide from one car. 
 
Synthesized spider web. According to Oxford’s Fritz Vollrath, the thinness and electrical charge of spider silk fibers, in addition to the glue-like liquid coating, allows them to catch any particles that fly through the air. These synthesized silk webs could be used like a mesh to capture pollutants -- including airborne particulates, chemicals, pesticides, or heavy metals -- coming out of chimneys or even disaster zones. 
 
These last two bonus items don’t help clean the air; instead, they are ways you can measure your personal air pollution risk. 
 
Float. These pollution-sensing kites take air quality readings -- measuring volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter – and little LEDs attached will light green, yellow, or red depending on the pollutants’ levels. Their results are submitted to a database that can be shared among other citizen scientists. Created by Harvard and Carnegie Mellon researchers, these kites are taking flight over Beijing, and similar citizen alliances will be flying them in London and Philadelphia. 
 
MicroPEM. Developed by Research Triangle Institute, this personal pollution monitor picks up a range of exposure data that can help its users manage their risk of inhaling aerosols of specific sizes. Early trials for the sensor focused on indoor pollution (from wood stoves), though now the device can be worn by adults and children in a range of environments. So far, the mobile units cost around $2,000, though the costs might go down as they head to market. 
 
[Via CNN]
 
Image: Nemesi & Partners
 

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