VIJAY SHAH via World Economic Forum
Smog is probably one of the most useless… and dangerous things known to humanity. The thick all-enveloping clouds of chemical particulates, water vapour, smoke and other atmospheric ingredients kills thousands of people globally per year, causes disruption to traffic and the economy and is an inescapable hazard to sufferers of breathing problems such as asthma. But now, in the notoriously polluted cities of China, they are not only fighting back, but are making a tidy profit from it too.
China has some of the most polluted aerial environments on earth. With a 1 billion-plus population and rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, as well as a determined quest to become a major world superpower, the country’s citizens pay the price for China’s great march to prosperity, enduring extremely high smog levels owing to the proliferation of factories, industrial units and slash-and-burn farming creating smoke which blows in from the countryside. In some large cities, including the capital Beijing, smog occurs almost on a daily basis, and is particularly evident in the summer months. One nationwide smog incident in late 2015 sparked red alerts and health warnings in ten cities, and the dirty air is thick enough to reach California, thousands of miles away in the Pacific.
However an artist from the Netherlands has proposed a novel solution that could not only rid cities in China, and in other rapidly developing nations, of their peasoupers, but also provide a boost to the diamond industry, turning a killer into a sparkler.
Dutch national Daan Roosegaarde is the in-charge of the Smog Free Project. The premise of the project is simple. First erect a seven metre tall tower which looks like it was made from window blinds and resembles a portly windmill. The tower draws in the polluted air and purifies it. As it does so, the carbon from the smog is extracted and compressed into carbon, the building blocks for organic life and the core ingredient of diamonds. The tower transforms the carbon dust into valuable gems, in a process that takes just thirty minutes. Beijing’s smog alone is 32 per cent carbon particulates, which will mean a lot of gems. The towers are, not surprisingly considering the background of their designer, influenced by Dutch architectural styles, and are intended to not look too obtrusive or space-consuming, a form of functional urban sculpture.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions, Roosegaarde told the assembled delegates and press: “It started with a dream,”
“The dream of clean air for everyone.”
The idea for the Smog Free Project first formed in Roosegaarde’s imagination when he was observing Beijing’s notorious smog from a hotel window.
“On Saturday, I could see the world around me, the cars, the trees, the people. But on Wednesday it was completely covered in smog, with pollution, and that image made me a little bit sad.”
Determined to free people from being forced to stay inside during smoggy days and to give them freedom to breathe safe air, he began planning the project.
Tests done in Beijing have shown the technology does work. Areas where the towers were tested were found to have air 70 to 75 per cent cleaner than places which did not have them. The success of the tests was picked up on by Beijing’s city government who have decided to endorse the artist’s project. Roosegaarde will now tour other cities in China to display the virtues and benefits of the towers.
The diamonds produced by the Smog Free Project will be used in jewellery making and the profits made ploughed back into the project, particularly in funding the construction of more towers.