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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Short of a miracle, China residents take air pollution into their own hands


By Angela Meng, November 18, 2013

 Pigeons fly over the Forbidden City in Beijing, which is covered in thick smog.

With no quick solution to pollution in sight, people are inventing their own protection against dangerous smog.

A few weeks ago, Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde grabbed headlines with his “sky vacuum”, a device that generates an ion field to pull polluted particles down to the ground where they can be cleaned, revealing a patch of blue sky fresh above.

Rooosegaarde is not alone in his creative approach to combating dirty air. One of the most popular gadgets that debuted at the East China Fair early this year was an air purifier helmet. It hooks up to a portable air filtration system that secures at the wearer’s the waist like a fanny pack, and runs on lithium batteries which last for up to eight hours a charge.

“These inventions look silly but they are highlighting a deadly problem” says Beijing-based artist Matt Hope.

Hope built his own “breathing bicycle” out of IKEA products and junkyard finds. It works by putting the air filtration system – an ioniser – inside a garbage can and connecting it to a wheel powered generator, so that as he pedals, he breathes filtrated air through an attached helmet.

In the village of Banjiehe just an hour outside Beijing, farmer Tang Zhenping believes his invention can addresses the causes of pollution, not just its effects. He built a wind-powered vehicle with solar panels that can reach speeds of nearly 145km/h  and costs about 9,800 yuan (HK$12,405).
Around the world, inventions by engineers, artists, and hobbyists alike have taken their shot at bettering air quality. Peruvian company Tierra Nuestra debuted the Super Tree, a phone booth-like container that sucks in polluted air and cleans  it using thermodynamic pressure.

In Manila, some highways are covered with paint that acts like a pollution sponge. It “absorbs energy from sunlight and transforms ordinary water vapour into free radicals that can break down [nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide]  … air pollutants that come in contact with the paint’s surface”, reported Ecotech, a Philippine technology website. British professors Tony Ryan and fashion designer Helen Storey  came up with CatClo, a laundry detergent to bleach the nitrogen oxides that pollute the atmosphere.

But small scale projects don’t solve big problems.

“It’s more of an artistic response to draw attention to the problem rather than a long-term solution” Hope remarked.

“We need to move away from the symbolic value and make sure that these things actually work” Roosegaarde said.

“They are basically saying, prove it, show us how you can do it” said Roosegaarde. “My vision is that by mid-2014, I’ll walk into a park and it’ll be the cleanest public park in Beijing” he said.