Technology May 1, 2013
This Building Eats Smog

The Manuel Gea González Hospital in Mexico City (Photo: Elegant Embellishments)

There are a lot of "green" buildings out there - but not too many of them actively clear the air by "eating" (or more accurately, neutralizing) the chemicals in smog.

Well, the Manuel Gea González Hospital in Mexico City does just that. A new type of tile called Prosolve370e has been attached to the outside of the building, and it effectively "eats smog" by breaking down urban air pollutants into less noxious compounds like carbon dioxide and water

And it gets through a lot of pollution in a day: the equivalent of emissions from 8,750 cars, officials say.

(Photo: Elegant Embellishments)

The tile works through a combination of its special shape and the chemical composition of its coating, which is designed to absorb and neutralize pollution.

Elegant Embellishments, based in Berlin, is the company that designed the tiles. In an email to Fast Company, Allison Dring, co-founder of Elegant, explained how the system works:

"When UV light cuts through smoggy air and hits the titanium dioxide on the tiles, a chemical reaction occurs between the tiles and chemicals in the smog-mono-nitrogen oxides, or NOx.

A lot of chemistry goes on in the interim, but for simplicity's sake, the end result of the reaction is that the smog is broken down into small amounts of less noxious chemicals, including calcium nitrate (a salt used in fertilizers), carbon dioxide, and water. The titanium dioxide itself remains unaffected, so it can keep making reactions happen."

As for the shape of the tiles, which makes the new wall look unique and interesting, it also helps create the smog-eating effect.

(Photo: Elegant Embellishments)

Basically, the tiles are shaped to receive and scatter more UV light, as well as slow wind and create turbulence. That helps distribute the pollutants more evenly across the wall, which helps pull more smog out of the air.

The hospital is the first building to receive the new facade, but it won't be the last: there are plans to introduce similar structures on other buildings in the city. It's all part of a three-year, $20 billion investment into the country's health infrastructure by Mexico's government.

And although Mexico City has a bad reputation for air quality (there were stories in the past of birds dropping out of the sky because of the smog), things have improved a lot.

In 1992, the city only had eight days with good air quality. In 2012, that number was up to 248.

Via Bloomberg Businessweek


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