With the impending doom of climate change looming closer and closer, nongovernmental organizations, nonprofits and governments around the world are asking citizens to drive less, buy local and “reduce, reuse and recycle.” However, there are certain places where these gestures may not be enough — cities where years of heavy industry, inefficient energy usage and a lack of environmental regulation have contributed to massive pollution, non-potable water and smog-drenched skies.
Indeed, the situation in some areas is so dire that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is on the brink of mandating governments to physically extract greenhouse gases from the air. But, other than simply planting a bunch of trees all over the place, how exactly does one do this?
With the heat from the UN — and with billionaire patrons like Richard Branson dangling a giant money-carrot — the race is on to develop innovative methods and technologies to assist in carbon dioxide removal. The scope of these concepts is vast, ranging from god-like weather control and geo-engineering efforts to personal breathing-capsules and grassroots do-it-yourself filters. Here are some of the most interesting — and strangest — contenders in this worldwide mission to eradicate pollution.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan via Gizmodo
Cloud-seeding is like a technically advanced form of the rain dance, inducing precipitation from the sky on a whim. Silver iodide, or dry ice, is introduced into the air by rocket or plane to stimulate cloud condensation, which then causes rain or snow. The largest existing system is currently in China and was infamously used in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to clear some of the pollution from the air. Despite some concerns about the silver iodide, studies have found that it has negligible impact on humans’ health or the environment.
Photo via BossTek
2. Giant Sprinklers on Skyscrapers
Similar to cloud-seeding (but without the weather manipulation), a new proposal looks into the idea of installing giant sprinklers on skyscrapers. Releasing water particles into the air will help settle dust and pollution particles, much like “dust suppression units” used in the construction industry. This is still very much in the speculation stage — some concerns include cost and whether or not this system could withstand storms and high winds — but even its skeptics have conceded that it’s a pretty awesome, and plausible, idea.
Beijing by Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images via Marketplace
3. Artificial Fog Removal
“Artificial Fog Removal” is one of two techniques that is being mysteriously researched in China. Representatives from the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences did not budge when questioned on what exactly that meant. To be continued …
4. Electrostatic Vacuum Cleaners
What better way to obey the UN’s orders than to simply suck the air clean with this electrostatic vacuum cleaner? This design by Daan Roosegaarde magnetizes charged copper coils to attract pollution particles from the air. Although already successful in treating small volumes of air, this idea is perhaps a tad impractical on an urban scale.
Infographic: Ryan Vulk via WIRED
Possibly the most controversial of all the proposals, geo-engineering is basically exactly what it sounds like: reengineering the earth. To counteract our current excess of carbon dioxide, scientists have proposed measures ranging from fertilizing the oceans with iron to putting sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. Yet many, including Al Gore, are skeptical about battling one substance with another, and there are widespread fears that the method will destroy ozone layers and increase acid rain.
Image: Institution of Mechanical Engineers via Green Futures
6. Innovative Filters
Numerous filters have started to appear claiming to have pollution-zapping powers. AeroNOx is beginning to deal with cars, while Cleanair and INFUSER are focusing in on the industrial sector. This universal CO2 “scrubber” (aka synthetic tree) also sounds promising; even Richard Branson is excited about the project, offering £12.6 million to anyone who can actually produce a working prototype.
7. Photosynthesis Bikes
Why build a new forest of synthetic trees when you could utilize existing infrastructure instead? This photosynthesis bike not only reduces carbon emissions, but will also allegedly purify the air in its immediate vicinity using a reaction between water and electric power from a lithium-ion battery. The design, developed by Thai firm LIGHTFOG, has already won a Red Dot Award despite the current lack of prototype.
Image via Imgur
8. Clean-Air Helmets
Seeming to echo the airplane safety message of “put on your own oxygen mask first before attending to others,” creativeDNAaustria has come up with a helmet to cater to the clean-air needs of the individual, providing a convenient clean-air bubble in front of your face. Alternatively, the above capsule idea (titled “Japanese Smoking Pods”) also gets the message across.
Image via South China Morning Post
9. Anti-Smog Martial Arts
With smog clinics cropping up, the next pollution-busting initiative in China could be anti-smog martial arts. Created by Wei Huanqiang, deputy director of Shijiazhuang City Elementary, the routine of 23 exercises aims to equip kids with strong lungs and with the overall fitness to withstand the smog. Needless to say, there are skeptics.
Photo credit: Chiu Chih via designboom
And last but not least we return to the idea of plants. Realizing the natural power of plants to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, some designers have opted for personal indoor gardens to keep the air around them clean. Beijing-based O2ganic has cashed in on this and is currently selling customized “air-filtering” plants. And now with this conceptual portable terrarium, you can take your living filters with you on the go!
Want more architecture + environment? Check out "The Smoggiest Cities in the World" and "Can Architects Solve Our Cities’ Pollution Problems?"