Intelligent Living
Environment Health Innovation Sustainability

New Smog Vacuum May Help Clean Polluted Beijing Air

People ride along a street on a smoggy day in DaqingBeijing and other industrial cities in China are known for their eye-stinging air pollution. Brown, murky, smog hangs over the cities and presents a health hazard for the Chinese citizens. The main cause of this pollution is due to the massive amounts of coal being burned to provide power to the cities.

Currently China burns 4 billion tons of coal per year, and coal is responsible for about ¾ of their electricity generation. With this heavy dependency on coal and an unwillingness to close down coal-burning plants and factories(not to dismiss the fact that China does indeed spend more money on renewable energy than any other country in the world), the authorities are most definitely seeking viable solutions to the pollution problem.

There have been many proposals, such as attaching pedal-powered generators onto bicycles that pump fresh air into riders helmets, and seeding clouds so that rain would wash the particles out of the sky. One of the latest ideas comes from Dutch artist and innovator Daan Rosengaarde, who envisions creating bubbles of clean air in various pockets around Beijing. Rosengaarde is currently talking to the mayor of Beijing, who might use this innovative solution to combat the severe air pollution.

This positive-ionization “vacuum cleaner” uses low amp, high voltage electricity on copper coils to create an electrostatic field, which pulls the smog particles out of the air. The particles flow across the field and are enclosed in a box, from which they then become positively charged and bind themselves to a grounded electrode, which needs to be cleaned periodically.

The original idea for this cleaning device came from Bob Ursem from Delft University of Technology. He came up with the idea of ionizing smog particles after witnessing tiny bits of dust, salt, and organic matter flowing off the Atlantic Ocean and onto a Dutch beach. According to Ursem, “They floated into the dunes toward some bushes and there was a lift effect, carrying them above the bushes. They floated above the bushes, indicating that the electrical force is greater than the gravity force.” These particles were negatively charged from the friction, and thus were avoiding contact with the negatively charged foliage.

Ursem was able to replicate this phenomenon in his lab by using dust, and he came up with a way of reversing the charge on the particles by using the electrostatic field. He says that under lab conditions, the invention does not even require a ventilation system to draw air across the electrified copper wire coils.

The concept is now owned by the research and development firm Environmental Nano Solutions(ENS), who bought it from Delft University. The ENS officials say that realistically, the air cleaner would require fans and that it would not, as Roosegaarde’s animated depiction of the cleaner, create a patch of blue sky above.smog32

This device will probably not be a game changer when it comes to combating pollution, but it is certainly a novel idea and it will be interesting to see how effective it can be in helping the Chinese citizens.Realistically, it makes more sense to combat the problem from the side of smog production, instead of creating “clean-air bubbles,” which might even charge for entrance.

Still, the idea is interesting, and it would be worth looking into if bicycles could generate the motion and charge needed to trap pollution and make a real difference, without needing more electricity or creating centralized clean air bubbles.

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