This Giant Air Purifier From a Dutch Designer Could Create a Smog-Free Future

Not to freak you out or anything, but if you live on this planet, there's a pretty decent chance that pollution is going to kill you. That's not just me being unnecessarily alarmist, that's according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which determined air pollution is on track to overtake both unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation as the No. 1 environmental cause of premature death by 2050. So, happy 2017, everybody!

Fortunately, we may be able to curtail the threat, thanks to some forward-thinking folks who've engineered a tower-sized air purifier that could hold the key to seriously reducing how much smog is in the sky.

The Smog Free Project, as the plan is officially known, is the brainchild of Dutch designer Daan Roosegaard, who's built a career out of conceiving visionary and dreamy "landscapes of the future." Following a number of work trips to China during which the insanely poor air quality there nearly held him hostage in his hotel, he was compelled to come up with a fix, and after a couple years of iterating, he debuted the Smog Free Tower. It's a 23ft-tall air purifier -- the largest in the world -- modeled after ones used in hospitals and capable of cleaning 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour. It removes up to 75% of two kinds of pollutants that most heavily contribute to smog and redistributes the freshly purified air in a 360-degree "bubble" around the tower. Amazingly, it also requires very little electricity -- roughly as much as is needed to power a water boiler.

After raising a little over $125,000 on Kickstarter, Roosegaard launched a successful pilot program in Rotterdam. He then built off that success and persuaded the Chinese government to allow him to bring the tower to Beijing, where it's currently set up in a small park in one of the city's art and design districts.

Obviously, putting a single air-purifying tower up against the ever-expanding clouds of smog in a city the size of Beijing is Sisyphean. Fighting smog in a real way there or anywhere else will require installing these things on such a grand scale that there would need to be one on the corner of practically every city block. However, this is just the opening act in Roosegaard's grand plan. He's hoping to eventually bring the tower on tour around the world, in an effort to inspire green tech companies, NGOs, and cities alike to work together to raise the money and infrastructure necessary to go big. Up until then, Roosegaard and his team are raising money for the project by selling rings and cufflinks made from the compressed smog particles collected by the tower. 

So hey, as long as we can figure out how to clean up the ocean, flood-proof our cities, and prevent millions of people from choking on toxic air, we may actually be able to ride it out on this planet for quite some time.

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him to the land of fashion-forward gas masks @jwmcgauley.