Now There’s a Smog-Sucking Tower That Turns Pollution Into ‘Diamond’ Rings

Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde’s giant air purifier turns the carbon in particulate matter into luxurious bling.

(Photo: Zhang Peng/Getty Images)

Jul 28, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

He’s created dance floors that generate electricity while you boogie, as well as glow-in-the-dark solar-powered lighting for highways. Now it seems diamond rings made out of smog are what’s next for Dutch artist and designer Daan Roosegaarde.

Roosegaarde and his Studio Roosegaarde team have created the Smog Free Tower, a 23-foot-tall, cone-shaped structure that can be installed in parks and other public spaces. The tower operates like a gigantic air purifier and uses ion technology to suck smog out of the air.

“We are just building the largest electronic vacuum cleaner in the world,” he says in the video below. And like your vacuum cleaner at home, the interior of the tower has to be emptied of the sooty particles it collects. It turns out the miniscule bits of dust that make up smog are 42 percent carbon, “and carbon under pressure becomes diamonds,” says Roosegaarde.

After spending time in smog-choked Beijing, the artist became, as he puts it, “fascinated with pollution”—or rather, how we can get rid of it. It’s a challenge that’s been on the minds of plenty of innovators. In the past year, college students in Peru have created a smog-eating billboard, their peers in the United States came up with smog-eating roof tiles, and scientists in the United Kingdom designed a building-size smog-eating poem.

Along with blocking your view of landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, air pollution kills about 7 million people around the world every year, according to the World Health Organization, and people who breathe in the fine particulate matter tend to suffer from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “It’s really weird that we accept it [air pollution] as something normal,” says Roosegaarde.

(Courtesy: Vimeo)

He and his team have worked on an indoor prototype of the Smog Free Tower for the past three years. The tower is so efficient at sucking up air pollution that it can, according to Roosegaarde, create a smog-free area that’s 1,000 cubic meters—roughly the length, width, and height of 11 football fields. Now his team is raising funds on Kickstarter to build an outdoor version that will be installed in a park in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in September. Once it’s proven successful there, Roosegaarde hopes to expand the concept to other cities around the world.

Photo: Courtesy Vimeo

Crowdfunding efforts usually offer rewards to backers—a thank-you on a website or a copy of whatever the creators intend to produce—and this campaign is no different. That’s where the diamonds come in. If you want some serious bling, for a $271 pledge, you can get a steel and smog “diamond” ring or a pair of cuff links.

If those are out of your price range, you can still pony up $54 to get a cube. The tower is able to eat enough smog that Roosegaarde will be able to produce more than 3,500 tiny (8.4 cubic millimeters) blocks per day. “Carry your cube with you as a personal reminder of your efforts to create a world free of smog,” suggests the Kickstarter page.

Of course, getting exhaust-spewing vehicles off the road is the ultimate solution to our pollution problems. In the meantime, 189 backers have pledged more than $14,000 toward the $54,000 fund-raising goal. Are these smog cubes the sort of GIA-certified diamonds you could take to the pawn shop if times get tough? Don’t count on it. Still, Roosegaarde’s Smog Free Tower and smog cubes certainly bring a bit of gorgeously designed innovation to the quest for clean air.