A 23-Foot-Tall Air Purifier Gets a Tryout in Smoggy Beijing

The Smog Free Tower, an outdoor air cleaner, was tested in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The challenge will be bigger when it is moved in September to a public spot in smoggy Beijing

A 23-foot-tall air purifier gets a tryout in smoggy beijing
The Smog Free Tower

Rather than the screens, sensors, microchips and Big Data typically employed by Smart City designers, Daan Roosegaarde works with a more fanciful tool kit: smog-eating machines, light-emitting plankton and solar-sensitive paint.

“When we talk about innovation today, it’s screen-based, but Smart City is not about another app or microchip,” said Mr. Roosegaarde, whose design firm, Studio Roosegaarde, is based in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. “Big Data is important, but things can go wrong if we only focus on technology and forget to connect with people and to connect people with their environment.”

It is that sort of philosophy that led Mr. Roosegaarde and his partners to create the Smog Free Tower, the world’s first outdoor air cleaner. Just 23 feet tall, it looks like a miniature chrome-latticed skyscraper. But inside, a powerful vacuum uses ionization technology to suck up smog, filter out the dangerous particles and release purified air. Mr. Roosegaarde contends that in 36 hours it can eliminate 70 to 80 percent of the impurities in the air from an area the size of a football stadium.

The tower was designed by Mr. Roosegaarde, then tested in Rotterdam. But now it is about to take on a much bigger challenge: China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection recently commissioned Mr. Roosegaarde to temporarily install the tower at a public location in Beijing in September to see how well it performs in the catastrophically smoggy air that is choking China’s largest cities. It will then go on a sort of smog-fighting tour, with related educational events, to four other Chinese cities over the next year.

Neither the Chinese nor Mr. Roosegaarde are under the illusion that the tower will make any real difference in China’s overall air quality. […]