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Daan Roosegaarde’s Smog Free Project is an innovation for clean air

Dutch innovator and designer Daan Roosegaarde on social design, and how the Smog Free Project could have a big impact in India

The Smog Free Tower in Beijing. Photographs from Studio Roosegaarde
The Smog Free Tower in Beijing. Photographs from Studio Roosegaarde

While delivering a talk at TEDx Binnenhof five years ago, Dutch innovator and designer Daan Roosegaarde, 37, spoke of how technology was everywhere. Even as an artist, he said, he was using microchips and sensors, not charcoal or paint.

“But what happens when this technology jumps out of that computer screen and becomes a part of our environment…. How can we use that to create the innovative and interactive landscapes of the future?" he asked.

The answer lies in what he calls “techno-poetry".

Roosegaarde’s efforts to bring people and nature closer in an interactive manner have paved the way for projects such as Dune 4.2, an innovative landscape located alongside the Maas river in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The 60m-long public artwork reacts to the sounds and touch of people walking on the riverbank. Though it’s made of fibre, sensors, speakers and software, Dune 4.2 uses less than 60 watts of power per hour.

Clean air

But what now brings Roosegaarde and his Rotterdam-based social design lab, Studio Roosegaarde, to Delhi is something much bigger in the context of social design—the Smog Free Project. Roosegaarde and his team of designers and experts have created a 7m-high Smog Free Tower that works as an air purifier, sucking up the polluted air—capturing PM2.5 and PM10 smog particles—cleansing it and then releasing it back into the atmosphere. The project, three years in the making and supported by the Chinese government, was launched in Beijing last September.

The tower, described as the world’s largest air purifier, uses patented ozone-free ion technology to clean the air. “We use positive ionization. You have smog particles which are tiny, like your hair, but 14 times smaller. You can’t see or feel them, but they cause a lot of damage. You hit them with positive ions. All this happens at a nano level; 1,000th of a millimetre. The smog particles become positively charged and then you have a negatively charged surface. That’s how you attract them. We don’t use filter systems because they don’t capture smog particles and use a lot of electricity," says Roosegaarde, as he shows us a small transparent pouch that contains the dense black smog particles collected from the tower in Beijing. “It’s the same as inhaling 17 cigarettes a day without the pleasure of nicotine. That’s not good," he adds.

Roosegaarde hopes to bring the Smog Free Project to India latest by 2018, starting with Delhi. They have a local partner, a private investment company, here and are in touch with the Union and Delhi governments. “We will also be doing some workshops at IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and universities in Delhi and Mumbai," says Roosegaarde.

But how effective will one tower be? It can capture and remove up to 70% of PM10 and up to 50% of PM2.5 particles in its immediate surroundings. A tower set up in an open field and in calm weather provides PM10 reductions of up to 45% and PM2.5 reductions of up to 25% within a radius of more than 10 m. If the tower is used in semi-enclosed or enclosed courtyards, the results will be even better, according to Eindhoven University of Technology data. A tower cleans 30,000 cubic metres per hour and uses less than 1,170 watts of energy per hour, says Roosegaarde.

The ring made from compressed smog particles.

Activating the human element

Like his other innovations, Roosegaarde has created a “tangible souvenir" to symbolize the Smog Free Project. The particles captured from the tower in Beijing have been used to create smog-free rings, made by compressing the carbon in the smog for 30 minutes.

Another facet of the project, still in phase 1, is the Smog Free Bicycle, says Roosegaarde. “This is a smaller version of the tower. We have teamed up with Ofo, which is one of the largest bike-sharing companies in the world. They have millions of shareable bikes.... We are designing a new bike with them which sucks up polluted air, cleans it and then releases it. We will launch the first prototype at the end of this year," he adds.

Roosegaarde says he is always surrounded by engineers and people with the technical nous. Interactions with students and universities are an important part of the process, he says. The inspiration for the Smog Free Bicycle, for instance, came from student workshops in China.

“You are always inspired by the local context. During my travels in India, I have seen an incredible amount of curiosity towards the future, good lifestyle and technology," says Roosegaarde. The Smog Free Project, he adds, would be a good first in India for Studio Roosegaarde.

Daan Roosegaarde.

The next big plan, he says, is clean water, creating innovations that can purify water, or generate energy from changing tides. Technology, as always, will be pivotal.

As Roosegaarde puts it, we have to “engineer our way out".


‘Techno- poetry’

Roosegaarde’s projects are focused on making ideas of future landscapes a reality

Like his other innovations, Roosegaarde has created a “tangible souvenir” to symbolize the Smog Free Project.


Inspired by ‘The Starry Night’, this bicycle path in Eindhoven is made of thousands of stones with phosphorescent coating. Solar-powered, it glows at night for up to 8 hours.


Smart kites that search for optimal winds. When the kite flies, the cable moves and creates kinetic energy or electricity. A single kite can produce up to 100 kilowatts per day.


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