Climate Crisis: The Smog Vacuum

china smog 2013 TV bldgIn recent years, strategies aimed at combating Climate Change have evolved to become a two-pronged attack. In addition to finding ways to reduce how much we pollute, a number of methods are being devised to deal with the pollution we have already created. And one such device is being deployed to where it is needed the most: Beijing.

For many years now, China’s capitol has been notorious for its poor air quality. But last Tuesday, in the northeast city of Harbin, roads, schools and even the local airport were closed for two days straight due to a thick, choking haze that was due to unseasonably warm temperatures and very little wind coinciding with the smoke from local farmer’s burning straw and the initiation of Harbin’s coal-powered municipal heating system.

https://i2.wp.com/beijingcream.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Harbin-smog-5.jpgThe resulting haze measured 1000 micrograms per cubic meter. That’s three times the concentration deemed hazardous by the World Health Organization, and many dozen times what is considered safe. To remedy the situation, city authorities are now coordinating with Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde to launch what he calls an “electronic vacuum cleaner” to suck up 50 meter-high cylinders of polluted air.

Two weeks ago, Roosegarde successfully demonstrated his smog machine in a 25 square meter room, in which he used an electrostatic field from copper coils to magnetize and pull down pollution from the air above. The effect could be replicated, he says, if those coils were deployed in public spaces. Now, Roosegaarde is working with Bop Ursem, a professor at the Technical University of Delft, to scale up the technology in Beijing.

https://i1.wp.com/cdni.wired.co.uk/620x413/k_n/Lidi%20en%20Daan%20-%20testing%20smog.jpgRoosegaarde has had experience working with electrostatic fields in the past. Last year, he proposed using electromagnetic charging strips to charge cars on “smart,” communication-enabled highways, which won the designer an INDEX award in 2013. He also claims the project is safe, “pacemaker proof”, and really no different than the waves of WiFi downtown areas are already inundated with.

In addition, electrostatic air filtering is already used on a much smaller scale, in hospitals where clean air is a matter of hygiene and sanitation. But part of Roosegaarde’s challenge will be creating a clean 50-by-50 meter space, controlling for factors like wind. He also concedes that his smog machine won’t solve the problem of all of Beijing’s pollution, but is meant to serve as an awareness-raising exercise.

https://i2.wp.com/i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02709/harbin2_2709592b.jpgAs for the resulting particles that are collected from the air, Roosegaarde believes they could be refashioned into useable products, such as jewelry. But as he himself put it, the concept is about dealing with a serious problem in a practical, new way:

I think it’s quite feasible in a weird way. Every project has its beauty and bullshit, so to speak. Of course you’ll have influences like wind, how high is the smog, but these are the pragmatics. In principle, this is doable… It is a statement to show [that] this is the new world, why do we accept the old world? In a world which is changing, it’s all about finding the missing links between imagination and innovation, between science and art.

Given the historic problem of smog in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, London, and Southeast Asia, the concept is likely to catch on. While it is primarily intended on removing harmful particulates, like heavy metals and toxic chemicals, it stands to reason that such devices will be paired with Carbon Capture technology to ensure that all harmful pollutants are scrubbed for our cities air.

trafficReducing the amount of pollution we have to contend with while making sure we generate less. At this point in the game, it’s the only way the worst effects of Climate Change will be avoided in the coming decades. Stay tuned!

Sources: fastcoexist.com, cnn.com

NYC’s Futuristic Pool: Cleans Water Before You Swim

exorcisepool-perspective-poolWater pollution is one of the most serious environmental concerns facing the planet, and as with most things environmental, the culprit is urban sprawl. Take Newtown Creek in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East Williamsburg, which is one of the smelliest and dirtiest watersheds in the world. In addition to oil and industrial contaminants, the watershed is heavily burdened by the worst byproduct of urban living there is: sewage.

At present, storm water combines with the local sewage in a pipe-overloading combination that sends over a billion gallons of wastewater into the creek each year. Unlike industrial chemicals, which can be captured and treated to render it harmless, urban sewage is created in volumes that are extremely difficult to manage. And for most cities, the option of simply dumping it in the ocean is too attractive to pass up.

exorcisepool-treatmentHowever, architect Rahul Shah has a bold solution for dealing with this problem: Build a swimming pool. The Exorcise Pool – which Shah proposed for his master’s thesis at Parsons The New School For Design – wouldn’t use water directly from the Newtown Creek, its water supply would be the same, and its purpose would be both to mitigate and reveal the woeful state of local water pollution.

Instead, Shah’s project would divert an estimated 76,000 cubic feet per year of run-off into “bioswales”: ravines full of cattails, bulrush, and algae that would both absorb and carry water downhill. These bioswales would replace sidewalks on eight blocks of East Williamsburg, covered by grates where there are garages or doors to warehouse apartments.

exorcisepool-exteriorWater not absorbed by the plants would be carried to a series of water treatment technologies, using everything from algae to UV light to a bed full of reeds that will help trap solids. Ultimately, the water would not be clean to the point of drinkability, but would be safe as anything found in a pond. And in addition to drawing attention to the state of the river, the purpose, according to Shah, would also be to “showcase of different methods of water treatment.”

But of course, the main attraction, once all this water is treated, would be a series of patio misters and a public pool. The misters, according to Shah, will act as a sort of “test of faith”, where people decide to take a leap by letting treated water touch their skin. After that tentative step, they will have the option of swimming in it.

exorcisepool-showerAnd though the project is not being realized just yet, it stands as a suggestion of how to repurpose and redesign urban structures that were once sources of pollution into something healthier and more natural. In many ways, it calls to mind the work of the design firm Terreform ONE – which is seeking to convert Brooklyn’s Naval Yard into a vast greenspace through living architecture – or New York’s real estate firm Macro Sea, which began converting old dumpsters into mobile swimming pools back in 2011.

In the end, its all about converting the problem into a solution. Repurposing and redesigning the older, dirtier habitats of the past and turning them into something that actively cleans up the despoiled environment is much cheaper and easier than bulldozing and redeveloping them, after all.

And it also serves to remind us of how large urban environments are a part of the solution as well. With many people crammed close together amidst such sprawling infrastructure, the challenge of meeting future demands for space and clean living is visible and direct. As such, it has a hand in leading to innovative solutions and bright ideas.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, terreform.org, macro-sea.com