Air pollution is a serious risk all over the world: towns and cities are choked with smog and dangerous emissions that are damaging both the environment and people's health.
Between technologies, government initiatives and innovative projects we are gradually developing ways to help solve this problem. One day we could put an end to air pollution once and for all, maybe thanks to some of the projects I have listed in this post.
What are the main causes of air pollution?
In short, the main causes of air pollution are the expulsion into the atmosphere of very small solid, liquid or gaseous polluting particles. Soot, dust, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide cause harm to people and the environment.
The sources? Different. Consumption of wood and coal, vehicle exhaust, intensive farming, large fires.
The effects of air pollution? Many. In humans eye, nose and throat irritation, breathing difficulties, cancer. Acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer and poisoning of animals and plants are just some of the worst effects on the environment.
Here are some interesting solutions for air pollution. A list that is far from exhaustive and in no particular order: they impressed me and I decided to include them in the post.
1 Friends of the Earth: citizens who test their air quality
One of the best tools in the fight against air pollution is education. By educating people about the importance of clean air and actions to reduce their emissions, the problem of air pollution can be better addressed.
Friends of the Earth is a charity in the UK that has started providing citizens with test kits to learn more about air quality in their local areas.
The kits include a small monitoring system and an easy-to-follow guide, so interested citizens can get accurate answers about the air they breathe.
2 The vertical forest of Nanjing: cultivating an urban forest to clean the air
Due to the heavily industrialized areas, China suffers from the highest levels of air pollution in the world. Fortunately, in recent years the Celestial Empire has proposed and implemented numerous initiatives to combat air pollution and make the air healthier.
One of these is the vertical forest of Nanjing in Jiangsu province. A project by Boeri studio, which I have already covered several times on this site.
The forest is estimated to be able to absorb
25 tons of carbon dioxide and to release enough oxygen to make the air 3.000 times healthier than its current state. The project features 3.000 different plant species and was completed in 2018.
3 AIR-INK: printing with polluted air based inks
Among the most interesting strategies to combat air pollution is to use the pollutants sucked from the air in a harmless and creative way. One such project is AIR-INK, an ink produced by carbon emissions. The product is made by Graviky Labs and was funded through Kickstarter.
People simply connect the KAALINK device to their car's exhaust pipe and after 45 minutes of driving they will get 30ml of liquid to send to the laboratory. There the liquid is purified and turned into usable ink.
4 Smog that becomes a jewel
La Smog-Free Tower it is a system that sucks up smog and condenses its particles into precious stones. It is the brainchild of the Dutch artist Dan Roosegaarde.
The “smog-free tower” uses relatively little energy, sending positive ions into the air that attach to the dust particles. A negative ion in the vacuum then draws the positive ions back inside, taking the particles with it.
The fine particles of carbon that the tower collects can be condensed to create tiny "gems" that can be incorporated into jewelry such as rings and cufflinks. Each of the tiny stones is the equivalent of 265.000 gallons (1.000 cubic meters) of purified air.
The tower made its debut in Rotterdam in 2015 and is now used in other cities around the world.
5 Free Transportation: Encouraging citizens to abandon their cars
It is now well known that our cars are among the main causes of air pollution. That is why Germany devalues the possibility of making the free public transport to encourage citizens to reduce their carbon footprint by leaving their cars at home.
Although it is a great initiative, I must emphasize that such a project is not actually "free", but is paid indirectly through taxation. The announcement dates back to February 2018 and the tests should have started a year later, in February 2019. Covid has "frozen everything" until (hopefully) the end of this year.
The solution did not convince everyone ("only" two thirds of the German citizens questioned from a 2019 survey they said in favor). If successful, however, it could have a huge impact on air quality in Germany.
6 The largest air purifier in the world: cleaning the air with a skyscraper
In January 2018 in Xian, China (the city of the famous terracotta warriors) work began on the largest air purifier in the world.
The massive structure measures 328 feet (100 meters) and can improve air quality within a radius of nearly 4 miles (10 square kilometers).
The tower, as mentioned, is just one of many Chinese efforts to combat air pollution. The future will tell if this is an effective solution - if it is, it won't surprise me to see similar towers erected across the country.
7 The Aspira-pollution
What if we could place giant vacuum cleaners on top of buildings to clean the air and cut down on air pollution? It is the question that prompted us Envinity Group, a Dutch collective of inventors, to take action.
In 2016 they unveiled a huge industrial vacuum cleaner designed to remove airborne contaminants.
The system removes fine and ultra-fine particles, identified as carcinogenic by the WHO. The inventors claim that the vacuum-pollution it can eliminate 100% of fine particles and 95% of ultrafine particles within a range of 300 meters (984 feet).
8 Fuel ban: permanently eliminate fossil fuels
Removing contaminants from the air is a great short-term solution, but it doesn't address the long-term effects of carbon emissions.
One way many countries are trying to create a greener and cleaner future is the ban on cars using petrol and diesel. The United Kingdom is among the first countries to take action in this way against air pollution. The country
plans to effectively ban all new petrol and diesel vehicles off the road by 2035.
With the rapid increase in interest in electric vehicles around the world, initiatives like these have a high probability of success.
9 CityTree: purify urban areas in a natural way
Urban areas are the hardest hit when it comes to air pollution.
The lack of green areas and trees in cities reduces the chances of absorbing carbon dioxide, leaving air quality poor.
That's why the German start-up Green City Solutions created CityTree. The CityTree is a vertical unit, a kind of billboard, which incorporates moss and lichen.
Thanks to these laborious systems, each unit can absorb up to 240 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Each of these plants can do the job of 275 trees while requiring a fraction of the space and cost. A similar solution is that of the startup BioMiTech, it is called BioUrban 2.0 e I talked about it here.
10 All electric: paving the way for zero-emission vehicles
When many countries around the world finally manage to ban combustion engine vehicles from their streets, they will need many electric vehicles to replace them.
India, to name just one country, has announced that from 2030 it will only sell electric vehicles.
This would represent a huge turning point for India, whose population currently suffers 1,2 million deaths a year from air pollution. The change could also save the country over € 60 billion in energy costs.
A bold move, which many other countries will surely follow.
11 Hydrogen fuel from air pollution
Today's pollution could become the fuel of tomorrow thanks to research from the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven.
In May 2017, scientists discovered a surprising new method to purify the air and at the same time create hydrogen fuel from extracted pollutants.
The researchers created a device containing a thin membrane. The purified air passes on one side of the membrane: on the other, the gaseous hydrogen resulting from the degradation of contaminants remains. The gas obtained can be used as a fuel.
The device is also powered by solar energy, which makes it completely clean.
12 Air Pollution Sensors - Provide air quality data everywhere
One problem that has blocked the fight against air pollution is the lack of comprehensive data.
While urban areas are well tested for their air quality, suburban and rural areas have fewer resources and less data available.
In India, government initiatives are working to install pollution sensors in all areas of the country to better detect and manage air pollution.
A new series of state-of-the-art sensors was certified in 2019 and has already provided valuable data in the fight against air pollution.
13 Streetlights and smart sensors: working in tandem to clean the air
The Czech Republic has announced that it will install carbon dioxide monitors inside smart street lights in its capital, Prague.
The sensors will provide real-time information on areas most affected by air pollution, enabling more effective strategies to combat it and letting residents know which areas of the city are at greatest risk to their health.
14 Anti-smog cannons: break down air pollution from the air
The idea of a anti-smog cannon it might sound ridiculous, but it could be an effective way to clean up areas affected by heavy air pollution.
The government of Delhi, India, tested the "weapons" with satisfactory results, and has been deploying them for a year to help reduce dangerous smog levels in Anand Vihar.
The guns work by spraying water vapor into the air, which absorbs pollutants before falling back to the ground in the form of rain.
Although it does not completely remove pollutants, it is an effective short-term solution for the busiest days of smog. Days on which to breathe the air could present a serious health risk to residents.
15 Google Maps of air pollution
This, more than a project, is an experiment that has provided interesting perspectives. 5 years ago Google Street View cars traveled in a restricted area of the USA also taking air samples.
In this way, they collected data to create a “view” of the map that also included the levels of air pollution.
If the cars were equipped with a sensor that sends data to a system like Google's, we would have a map of the air and its fluctuations available in real time anywhere in the world.