With China's notoriously polluted air reaching unprecedented levels of dirtiness in recent weeks, it's been nearly impossible for outdoor enthusiasts to walk, jog, run, rollerblade, or hop-scotch without the very real possibility of returning home with a mouthful of soot.
Enter British artist Matt Hope, who's designed a Breathing Bicycle that he believes will make bike riding a healthy transportation option for China's residents.
Here's how it works: A generator is connected to the back wheel, which with each pedal sucks air into a filtration system that separates out dust particles. The clean air is then sent up to the rider who can ride comfortably in Beijing's polluted air.
The bike is a self-sustainable air-cleaning system, but there are still a few kinks to be worked out—namely that it cannot operate in the rain. While the technology works in theory, the bike still needs some testing and reinventing before it becomes commercially ready.
"I have data for the last four years in Beijing, and this year was the worst," said Professor Junfeng Zhang of the University of Southern California's U.S.-China Institute, to TakePart. "The U.S. EPA standard [for healthy air quality] is 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air. I don't think we've seen levels above 50 [in the U.S.]. In Beijing we're talking about levels above 900 micrograms."
"The micrograms decrease lung function, and particles can actually kill people when the concentrations are that high," said Dr. Annmarie Carlton of Rutgers University, to TakePart. "There have been episodes where many people have died.”
The pollution in Beijing is composed mostly of small particles, which are particularly deadly. Zhang explained: "The real hazard is the fine particles. Those particles are so small that the human defense mechanisms [are inefficient]. The fine ones are so small they pass the nasal passages and go all the way down to the lungs and cause harm to the respiratory system and, eventually, the cardiovascular system."
Unfortunately, Beijing's pollution problem does not show any signs of slowing down. In fact, as global warming continues to cause extreme temperature shifts, the air quality is predicted to get worse. Zhang told TakePart that one of the reasons this year's microgram levels were so bad was due to the cold winter. "January was colder than the past several years. In cold weather people need more heating to keep warm, which means increased emissions."
Not only does cold weather mean more people are burning coal and contributing to air pollution, but it also makes it harder for the pollution to escape the atmosphere. "Cold weather blocks dilution of the pollution. On colder days the lower air is colder meaning the air pollution doesn't have anywhere to go. It's like an invisible roof that traps the pollution," said Zhang.
Many people take their ability to ride a bicycle for granted. But for those in China, the air quality is so poor riding a bike is virtually impossible. Matt Hope's new Breathing Bicycle is making headway towards getting people out of emissions-producing vehicles and towards a more sustainable future.
Would you ride Hope's Breathing Bicycle? Do you think it will help mitigate China's air pollution?