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Smart Construction Materials: Smog-Eating Buildings

Jenna Morrissey
by Jenna Morrissey on May 16, 2018

It’s a simple enough idea – to have the projects we create and build, improve the world they’re in. But as nations develop quicker and quicker, the world isn’t quite keeping up in terms of sustainability.

It might be surprising, but one of the biggest issues humans are currently facing is air pollution. According to WHO, it’s become the leading cause of death in the environment – in 2012, the fatalities from breathing polluted air had reached six million. 

"One of the biggest issues humans are currently facing is air pollution"

But packing up the family, getting a golden retriever, and moving to the countryside isn’t our only option.

We’re beginning to experiment with infrastructure built using smog-eating materials – a nano-coating that not only self-cleans, but purifies the surrounding air as well. It also defies the ‘you are what you eat’ principle – every option that’s been explored so far has been beautifully designed, and has brought up the looks average of the surrounding area as well.

Smog-Eating Building - Smart Materials[Photo Credit: XPrize]

One of the creators of this technology, Elegant Embellishments, has equated that just one building can negate the effects of up to about 1,000 cars per day.

By and large, the solution has come from titanium dioxide. When in the sun, it begins breaking down organic particles which alters the surface to be a little more water-loving – which we’d know as hydrophilic. This process of breaking down particles then converts the nitrogen oxides in the air into a harmless nitrate.

"One building can negate the effects of up to about 1,000 cars per day"

That’s all there is to it – breaking down the particles, and eating the bad ones. Seems easy, right? The newly hydrophilic surface also attracts the water particles in the air, which showers the building and cleans it. Plus, the tiles don’t break down or lose this effect – so this process can happen indefinitely.

Hydrophilic surface on smog-eating materials[Photo Credit: Wikimedia]

Ulrecht, in the Netherlands, is exploring a greener option. Literally. On the external parts of the tower will be roughly 10,000 trees, shrubs, and general greenery. This will cover balconies, the roof, and all façades.

The same solution is also being tested in one of the most over-polluted places in the world – mainland China. This project is calling for four times as many trees, and even more plants – enough to negate and absorb the equivalent of 57 tonnes of pollutant.

"On the external parts of the tower will be roughly 10,000 trees, shrubs, and general greenery."

So not only does it absorb smog, but it produces oxygen as well, comparable to a park with hundreds of trees.

Utrecht green tower - smog eating buildings[Photo Credit: Stefano Boeri Architetti]

These effects on the world around us have amazing potential – particularly in the Western Pacific and South East Asian regions, who are mostly impacted by air pollution and desperate for a solution. With 2.4 million and 2.2 million deaths respectively from this worldwide issue, it’s a hard one to turn a blind eye to. 

Self-maintaining, aesthetically pleasing, and saving lives. When it comes to having our projects improve the world around us, maybe it really is a simple enough idea.

Tags: Sustainability

Jenna Morrissey

Jenna Morrissey

Freelancer Copywriter and Blogger