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Turning smog into diamonds

Let’s face it; the air in Manila is bad, downright unbreathable at times. It is 80% due to the toxic fumes expelled by over 8 million vehicles according to an article by CNN Philippines last year. Though an overall improvement in air quality (from 166 micrograms in 2010, down to 120 micrograms per cubic meter in 2015) was recorded, we are still 30 micrograms above the standard safe level. Aqicn.org’s real time monitoring tells us that our current Air Quality Index in the Metro levels out as “Unhealthy”, especially during rush hour.

Photos from www.studioroosegaarde.net

Photos from www.studioroosegaarde.net

Stricter emission standards and cleaner fuel do help control this environmental anomaly, but the issue is bound to worsen as more and more people purchase more and more vehicles. We need to innovate and improve on the design of our urban centers to be truly safe and comfortable to breathe in; something along the lines of Daan Roosegaarde’s Smog Free Tower might help.   It is the world’s largest air filter that can suck in smog, and churn out jewelry.

Having founded Studio Roosegaarde (a social design lab based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands with a pop-up studio in Shanghai, China); artist Daan Roosegaarde describes himself as someone who fell in love with cities before girls. The idea for The Smog Free Tower struck him during a 2013 trip to Beijing. He gazed out from his room into the city one day and saw that everything was covered in smog and air pollution. The trees, roads, and everyone outside were practically hidden from view. He would later learn that the city’s children could not play outdoors for part of the year when the blanket of smog is at its worst.

After taking three years to develop and prototype the concept, Roosegaarde launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the tower’s first pilot in Rotterdam. It was turned on for the first time last September and immediately got started purifying the air. Smog Free Cubes, Smog Free Rings, and Smog Free Cufflinks were created as tokens from the filtered air (1 item per 1000 cubic meter). They are described as the most tangible symbol of the Smog Free Movement for compressed smog particles are clearly seen at the center of each token.c1

Delving deeper into how the tower operates, it is fundamentally similar to air ionizers used in modern hospitals, factories, and establishments that limit the amount of unwanted particles in the air or neutralize static charge. Bob Ursem (a nanoparticles expert at the Delft University of Technology), was key in devising the method used by the 23-foot-tall tower in removing particulates in the air. By positively charging these particulates, they are effectively extracted from the air like a magnet. Clean air is then gusted out the side vents to cover an area the size of 11 football fields. It will be able to clean 30,000 cubic meters of air in an hour without ozone. As to the tower’s power consumption, Studio Roosegaarde assures us that it runs on green wind energy and uses no more electricity than a water boiler (1400 watts).

What is done with the filtered smog, you ask? It turns out that the collected dust particles is 42% carbon, and carbon when put under extreme pressure turns into diamonds. Geologists are still guessing how diamonds formed in the Earth from 1 billion to 3 billion years ago according to an article by livescience.com, but a study from the journal, Nature, speculates that carbon must first be buried 100 miles into Earth, then heated to about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, then squeezed under pressure of 725,000 pounds per square inch, before quickly rushed towards Earth’s surface to cool.

Thankfully there are ways to synthetically create diamonds in the laboratory. One method incorporates High Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT)—it is where tiny anvils in an HPHT machine squeeze down on the collected carbon as intense electricity zaps it, producing a gem-quality diamond in just a few days. These diamonds, however, aren’t as pure as natural diamonds because a metallic solution is mixed in, continues the livescience.com article. Synthetic diamonds can be applied to an array of practical uses, like in computer manufacturing—at temperatures that would melt silicon wafers, sheets of synthetic diamonds stay rock solid. The diamonds produced from the tower will fund more of them air purifiers around a given city.

The agenda now for Studio Roosegaarde is to take The Smog Free Tower and tour it around the world, to cities where clean air is all but a memory. It begins this September in China, then hopefully, if someone reaches out to the right people, here in the Philippines too.