Dutch Artist Daan Roosegaarde Plans to Vacuum up Beijing’s Air Pollution

Daan Roosegaarde wants to suck up Beijing's air pollution

Is it true that a Dutch artist has come up with a way to deal with China’s air pollution woes? Daan Roosegaarde has developed a device that might be a potential solution to the smoggy skies of Beijing: a vacuum cleaner — sort of, anyway, but on a much larger scale. He’s somewhat ironically named it Smog, because he invented it to deal with the smog of cities such as Beijing.

Powered by an electromagnetic field, the device will suck up airborne particles and pull them down to the ground level, where cleaning them will be easier. Using the machine will create columns of unpolluted air for the city’s residents to breath in without the necessity of wearing a surgical mask.

The artist and designer compared the machine and how it will attract the smog, or particles in it, to a balloon charged with static electricity. Just like a person’s hair “goes toward” the statically-charged balloon, the same thing, theoretically, should happen “with the smog,” according to Daan Roosegaarde.

Roosegaarde’s art studio has arrived at an agreement with the government of Beijing. They will test out the machine in one of Beijing’s parks, and, if it works out well, they will consider using several machines throughout the city.

The Dutch artist has already tested out an indoor prototype of his invention, and it has worked great, proving its effectiveness. If it can tackle the larger problem of ridding the skies of Beijing from deadly smog which is responsible for the premature deaths of millions of Chinese, Roosegaarde’s machine will make him more famous than his art has thus far made him.

The artist believes that Beijing is a perfect place to try out his invention, “because the smog is quite low,” and it’s also “in a valley so there’s not so much wind.”

Two of the objectives Roosegaarde hopes to accomplish are “to purify the air” and also “to get the top of the smog so you can see the sun again.”

Is the invention Daan Roosegaarde created the answer to Beijing’s smoggy air?

While the artist’s invention is not the answer to Beijing’s air pollution problem, it is a way to focus more attention on solving it. The invention, if it succeeds on a larger scale, will provide relatively clean pockets of air throughout the city for the residents to breath; but, the invention does nothing to lower the amount of pollution that Beijing’s factories belch out on a daily basis.

As Roosegaarde says, the “real answer” involves Beijing’s commitment to “clean cars, different industry and different lifestyles.”

The artist wants to make a statement, to demonstrate how much better of an alternative it would be to have a smog-free capital city than to breath in polluted air. He will make the statement by cleaning the skies above one of the city’s parks — exactly which park is still the subject of negotiations with local authorities. According to Roosegaarde, he could have the project ready to go in about nine months, though getting sufficient enough funding is one factor that might slow the progress of the project.

In an attempt to deal with the causes of Beijing’s air pollution, policymakers are trying out various ways to get to the root of the problem, like closing factories temporarily, banning cars in the center of the capital, and increasing the regulations on the amount of emissions factories are legally allowed to put into the air.

City officials expect to drastically lower the level of air pollution within a period of five years, and they have deep pockets to ensure that the plan is successful. They have $165 billion at their disposal to spend on their goal of making the skies over Beijing smog-free by 2017.

In past years, the artist has worked on several other sorts of projects involving the use of static electricity. For example, his studio created a road which can charge electric cars through the static electricity which is generated, as well as a dance floor which produces electricity when people dance upon it.

What’s good for the air isn’t always good for the water

In a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, an analysis done by environmental experts has come to the conclusion that some of the measures China is considering to reduce its air pollution might result in lowering China’s amount of freshwater resources.

One example of this is a plan that was announced last month by China’s State Council. The plan would ban power plants ran by using coal in areas around Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing. This measure would help lower the air pollution that plague these cities, but some of the recommendations mentioned in the measure might lower China’s freshwater supplies, if enacted, according to scientists a the World Resources Institute (WRI).

The plan involves using natural gases instead of coal. However, one of the ideas of the plan is to convert coal into synthetic natural gas, or SNG. The WRI scientists say that, to make just one cubic meter of SNG, as much as 6-10 liters of freshwater is required. Using that much freshwater would be a strain on China’s sources of freshwater.

It’s estimated by analysts at WRI that “almost 20 percent of the region’s total industrial water use” would be required to create the amount of SNG that would be needed to run the power plants in these already “water-stressed regions” of China.

The amount of freshwater that Beijing, alone, would need to create enough SNG to operate the power plant there for a year would be, according to WRI, “more than 32 billion liters of freshwater.” This freshwater could be used for other purposes, like providing for the “domestic needs” of “1 million Inner Mongolians” for “an entire year.”

Besides adversely affecting freshwater supplies, creating SNG produces “more greenhouse gases than mainstream fossil fuels.” Going with SNG would be contrary to the low-carbon energy strategy China has been attempting to follow.

Whatever energy strategies China decides to follow, officials there should keep in mind if the benefits of it are worth any potential drawbacks, such as diminishing the country’s supply of freshwater.

The efforts of people like Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde and his invention of a machine to alleviate Beijing’s smog might not be an ultimate solution to China’s energy and air pollution problems, but if successful, the results are a definite step in the right direction.

Written by: Douglas Cobb


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