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  • Writer's pictureWorld Half Full

Turning smog into diamonds


In one of the world’s most polluted cities, there’s a tower that sucks up smog, turns it into clean air, and filters out the smog particles so they can be turned into diamonds. Yes, diamonds.

The tower is the brainchild of Dutch artist and professor of architecture Daan Roosegaarde who looked out his hotel window in Beijing one day and realised the smog was so thick he couldn’t see the city.

Eight-year-olds in Beijing have been diagnosed with lung cancer, and the filthy air has reduced residents’ life expectancy by 15 years. “This is not a bright future,” Roosegaarde said at the time. “This is a horror.”

So he and his team decided to build the largest air purifier in the world: the Smog-Free Tower. The tower — which has so far been used in Rotterdam (The Netherlands); Beijing, Tianjin and Dalian (all in China); Anyang (South Korea); and Krakow (Poland) — sucks up 30,000 cubic metres of polluted air every hour, cleans it at the nano level and then releases the clean air back into the city. The seven-metre high aluminium tower, which uses just 1170 watts of electricity and positive ionisation technology, is powered by solar energy.

And it’s remarkably effective: the air around the tower is 55–75% cleaner than the rest of the city. But after the toxic particles are filtered out of the air, they don’t just disappear of course. “We had buckets of this disgusting material in our studio,” said Roosegaarde. His team had been planning to send them to landfill when they realised that 42 percent of the particles were made of carbon. And when carbon is compressed, you get diamonds.

It takes about 30 minutes. The diamonds are then used for rings and cufflinks, each representing 1,000 cubic metres of pollution. Roosegaarde says one couple even used a smog ring for their engagement.

After Beijing, next stop for Roosegaarde is India. He plans to build Smog-Free Towers across the country to help communities turn their dirty air into objects to treasure.

He’s also partnering with NGOs, governments, students and tech companies to come up with other solutions to help reduce urban air pollution. One of them is the smog-free bicycle prototype, inspired by the manta ray, a fish that filters water for food. The bicycle works in a similar way, with a plug-in device on the handlebars that filters the air. The bicycle ‘inhales’ polluted air, cleans it, and sends clean air to the cyclist. Another invention is the smog-eating billboard, developed in conjunction with UDEM University in Mexico. It consists of a coated surface that attracts and purifies pollution by way of a process called photocatalysis using the sun and the wind, and provides clean air for 104,000 people each day.

ABOVE A smog-free tower in South Korea

| WATCH Daan's 2017 TED talk for an insight into his thinking

I don't believe in a utopia, I believe in a protopia: a prototype world that we are improving step by step. We do not know what the future looks like and what challenges that entails. What we do know is that there is no way back. If we do not invest in new ideas, we will die. We are all part of the prototype. Let us not be afraid, but be curious and collaborate.

Daan Roosegaarde

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