China pollution

Inventors battle to help Beijing beat chronic pollution problem

From helmets complete with filtration systems to the 'breathing bicycle', inventors are battling to help Beijing beat chronic pollution problem

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 12:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 2:59pm

With no quick solution to pollution in sight, people are inventing their own protection against the dangerous smog.

A few weeks ago, Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde grabbed headlines with his "sky vacuum", a device that generates an ion field to pull polluted particles down to the ground where they can be cleaned up.

Roosegaarde is not alone in his creative approach to combating dirty air. One of the most popular gadgets that debuted at the East China Fair early this year was an air purifier helmet.

It hooks up to a portable air filtration system secured around the wearer's waist and runs on lithium batteries which last for up to eight hours a charge.

"These inventions look silly, but they are highlighting a deadly problem" said Beijing-based artist Matt Hope.

He built his own "breathing bicycle" out of Ikea products and junkyard finds. It works by putting the air filtration system - an ioniser - inside a garbage can which is then connected to a wheel-powered generator. As he pedals, he can breathe the filtered air through an attached helmet.

Around the world, inventions by engineers, artists and hobbyists have had a shot at improving air quality. Peruvian company Tierra Nuestra launched the Super Tree, a phone-booth-like container that sucks in polluted air and cleans it using thermodynamic pressure.

In Manila, some highways are covered with paint that acts like a pollution sponge. It "absorbs energy from sunlight and transforms ordinary water vapour into free radicals that can break down … air pollutants that come in contact with the paint's surface", reported Ecotech, a Philippine technology website. British professor Tony Ryan and fashion designer Helen Storey came up with CatClo, a laundry detergent to bleach the nitrogen oxides that pollute the atmosphere.

In the village of Banjiehe an hour outside Beijing, farmer Tang Zhenping believes his invention addresses the causes of pollution, not just its effects.

He built a wind-powered vehicle with solar panels that can reach speeds of nearly 145km/h and costs about 9,800 yuan (HK$12,405).

But small-scale projects don't solve big problems. Hope said: "It's more of an artistic response to draw attention to the problem than a long-term solution."

Roosegaarde said: "We need to move away from the symbolic value and make sure that these things actually work.

"My vision is that by the middle of next year, I'll walk into a park and it'll be the cleanest public park in Beijing."