New tiles that attach to buildings could absorb pollutants from the air, says Elegant Embellishments co-founder Daniel Schwaag.

The tiles, called the "prosolve370e," look a bit like honeycomb or coral and work by using a special coating of super fine titanium dioxide.

  • Listen to Schwaag talk about his big idea:

"[It's] a surface enlargement that maximizes the effect of a photocatalyst and improves its exposure to target substances like nitrous oxides and sunlight," says the co-director of the German design company.

The sunlight creates a reaction in the coating so during daylight hours the material actually sucks up pollutants, and it won't change colour over time, he says.

"It pretty much stays white. I mean, one of the side effects — which was one of the earlier uses of photocatalyst — was that it is self-cleaning."

Schwaag says the material can make a pretty big difference in air quality.

In Mexico City, working along side the Mexican government, the tiles were used on the 100-metre long Torre de Especialidades, a large hospital in the city.

"Using this sort of formula we estimate that the facade in Mexico City compensates or reduces the nitrous oxides of 1,000 cars per day."

The goal, says Schwaag, is to strategically place them where high levels of pollution meet high levels of population as a kind of defence system.

Many other cities have shown interest in adapting the idea.

"We are open to anyone who wants it, but there seems to be sort of a focus on South America just because we've broken into the Spanish market," says Schwaag.

"It's basically all these cities in fast-growing economies that are facing pollution problems because their cities have been planned for cars."