Can a ‘Smog Vacuum’ Fix Beijing’s Air?

It’s a limited-scope project, but its inventor thinks it can inspire large-scale change.

Daan Roosegaarde wants to start punching holes in Beijing's smog.
National Journal
Alex Brown
Nov. 6, 2013, midnight

It’s fit­ting that the best im­me­di­ate hope for Beijing’s smog prob­lem comes from a Dutch artist. For Daan Roose­gaarde, “land­scape hack­ing” isn’t a fu­tur­ist­ic concept. “[In] the Neth­er­lands, we live un­der sea level, so our whole land is in a way man- or wo­man-made,” Roose­gaarde said. “Be­cause of wa­ter tech­no­logy, we sur­vive. So this re­la­tion­ship between the nat­ur­al and the cul­tur­al has al­ways been in our DNA.”

Roose­gaarde is the in­vent­or of the “smog va­cu­um,” which cre­ates an elec­tro­stat­ic field that mag­net­izes smog and pulls it out of the air. The sys­tem op­er­ates on un­der­ground cop­per coils, pulling the pol­lut­ing particles to ground level and com­press­ing them in­to a tar-like gel. “[It’s] really, really, really dis­gust­ing, to be hon­est,” he said. “It’s really like, ‘Oh, my God. Are we breath­ing this?’ “

As for the tech­nic­al spe­cif­ics of his pro­ject, Roose­gaarde de­clined to of­fer. “I’m sim­pli­fy­ing it right now,” he said. “My sci­ent­ists would kill me if I ex­plain.”

In ad­di­tion to his stu­dio in the Neth­er­lands, Roose­gaarde has one in Shang­hai, and he said his fre­quent vis­its to China promp­ted him look for solu­tions to the smog prob­lem. In one vis­it to Beijing, he said, “Monday I could see the build­ings, and Tues­day I could see none any­more.”

So he went to work on a solu­tion, team­ing with sci­ent­ists ex­per­i­enced in deal­ing with dust particles, among oth­er things. In­door test­ing has been suc­cess­ful and “the num­bers are good to go,” he said, and Beijing’s mostly wind-free en­vir­on­ment of­fers a good start­ing point for a pro­ject.

Roose­gaarde is work­ing with the loc­al gov­ern­ment, which has com­mit­ted nearly $165 bil­lion to fight­ing smog over the next five years, and he hopes to launch a pi­lot ef­fort in a Beijing park some­time in 2014. “This is something I want to do next year,” he said. “I’m not very pa­tient in these kind of things.”

For now, the scope of the smog va­cu­um is lim­ited. A 60-by-60 meter area—or around 28,000 cu­bic meters, adding in the ver­tic­al ele­ment—is about the ex­tent of its reach. But Roose­gaarde sees that as a plus, mak­ing his pro­ject not an en­a­bler of more pol­lu­tion but a small-scale in­dic­at­or of what life could be like with cut­backs in harm­ful emis­sions.

“When you talk about re­duc­tion of smog, the tend­ency has al­ways been to do less,” he said. “Less cars, less in­dustry. But China wants the op­pos­ite. They want to do more. It’s my role to come up with new pro­pos­als to link the world of sci­ence but also ex­per­i­ence. That ef­fect where you can walk in­to the park later on and see the dif­fer­ence.”¦ ‘Hey, this is the new world. It’s a clean new world. Why do we still ac­cept the old world?’ I think this is a very rad­ic­al state­ment of how real­ity should be. And that will cre­ate a slow aware­ness, which is much more ef­fect­ive than all the fact sheets and all the sci­entif­ic art­icles that have already been pub­lished.”

By 2017, he’s hope­ful his pro­ject will be placed in every park in the city. Later on, a con­sumer ver­sion may be avail­able for sale world­wide. For now, he’s plan­ning a meet­ing with Beijing of­fi­cials later this week to de­term­ine the first park where he’ll test the pro­ject.

“These kind of prob­lems, they don’t have easy solu­tions. The people in China know that even bet­ter than I do,” Roose­gaarde said. “The real is­sue you solve is by clean en­ergy, elec­tric­al cars—so this is a hu­man prob­lem, not a tech­no­lo­gic­al is­sue. This is a really good step which we can do right now, which we don’t have to wait an­oth­er three or four years.”¦ If you show it, they be­lieve it. And you make people aware, and you make people ex­cited about it. That’s in­cred­ibly im­port­ant.”

When the pro­ject is up and run­ning, even the cap­tured smog will serve as a re­mind­er of the need to re­duce air pol­lu­tion. “Some parts we will use to make jew­elry, ac­cessor­ies like rings,” Roose­gaarde said. “We [will] give away smog rings as a tra­gic souven­ir of this world we live in right now.”

What We're Following See More »
MARCIA FUDGE TO PRESIDE
Wasserman Schultz Stripped of Convention Duties
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz "will not have a major speaking role or preside over daily convention proceedings this week," and is under increasing pressure to resign. The DNC Rules Committee on Saturday named Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge as "permanent chair of the convention." At issue: internal DNC emails leaked by Wikileaks that show how "the DNC favored Clinton during the primary and tried to take down Bernie Sanders by questioning his religion."

Source:
EARLY BUMP FOR TRUMP?
New Round of Polls Show a Tight Race
2 days ago
THE LATEST
  • A Rasmussen Reports poll shows Donald Trump ahead of Hillary Clinton, 43%-42%, the fourth week in a row he's led the poll (one of the few poll in which he's led consistently of late).
  • A Reuters/Ipsos survey shows Clinton leading 40%-36%. In a four-way race, she maintains her four-point lead, 39%-35%, with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein pulling 7% and 3%, respectively.
  • And the LA Times/USC daily tracking poll shows a dead heat, with Trump ahead by about half a percentage point.
BELLWETHER?
Candidates Deadlocked in Ohio
3 days ago
THE LATEST
17-POINT EDGE AMONG MILLENNIALS
Clinton Dominates Among Younger Voters
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

In an election between two candidates around 70 years of age, millennials strongly prefer one over the other. Hillary Clinton has a 47%-30% edge among votes 18 to 29. She also leads 46%-36% among voters aged 30 to 44.

Source:
NEW POLL SHOWS TROUBLE FOR TRUMP
Clinton Leads Trump Among Latinos by Nearly 70 Points
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

According to an online tracking poll released by New Latino Voice, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump among Latino voters, attracting support from 81 percent of Latino voters, to just 12 percent support for Trump. The results of this poll are consistent with those from a series of other surveys conducted by various organizations. With Pew Research predicting the 2016 electorate will be 12 percent Hispanic, which would be the highest ever, Trump could be in serious trouble if he can't close the gap.

Source:
×