Arconic envisages smog-eating skyscrapers

An artist's impression of a futuristic smog-eating skyscraper. Image courtesy of Arconic.
An artist's impression of a futuristic smog-eating skyscraper. Image courtesy of Arconic.

Materials science company Arconic is investigating the technology behind building skyscrapers which can suck pollution out of the air.

Arconic, which was spun off from aluminium manufacturer Alcoa late last year, has been advancing a number of high-tech concepts in several fields. The company envisages in the not to distance future a three-mile high skyscraper built from 3D printed materials which can collect pollution from the air. This would then be stored on the sides of the building before being washed away to the ground every time it rains.

While such an ambitious concept is still some time away, Arconic is already pursuing the technology behind this an implementing it in smaller structures.

“We have introduced a technology called EcoClean – it pulls pollutants out of the air and as the rainwater washes the building, it washes away the pollutants,” said Sherri McCleary, chief materials scientist at Arconic.

Specifically, EcoClean works by reacting with sunlight and water vapour to produce free radicals, when then themselves bond with and break down air pollutants.

Arconic has been testing EcoClean in the award-winning ‘Iceberg’ residential development in Aarhus in Denmark. EcoClean was applied to the roof of the development’s buildings and according to the company has the air cleaning impact of approximately 800 trees.

Of course, the skies of Denmark are a long way from the polluted air of Asian megacities – some of the places most in need of this smog-eating technology. There, projects testing similar ideas have fallen flat, unable to cope with the toxically high levels of air pollution.

Among these, the ‘Smog Free Tower’ built in Beijing by Dutch studio Roosegaarde was forced to change its name to the ‘Smog Alert Tower’, due to its inability to actually make the air nearby completely smog free. Nonetheless, the tower was allowed to stay in place due to the fact that it did, in fact, have a noticeably positive impact on air quality.

So far it is unclear if Arconic actually intends to help a skyscraper using this concept to get built, or if it is simply advertising a possible use of its EcoClean technology.