In one of the world’s most polluted cities, there’s a futuristic tower that sucks up smog, turns it into clean air, and filters out the smog particles so they can be turned into diamonds.
Sound like sci-fi? It’s real — and there are smog diamonds out there to prove it.
The tower is the brainchild of Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde who looked out his hotel window in Beijing and realized that the smog was so thick, he couldn’t see the city.
“This is not the bright future we envision,” Roosegaarde says. “This is the horror.”
So he and his team decided to build the largest air purifier in the world: the Smog Free Tower.
The tower they built, which has been used in Rotterdam, Beijing, Tianjin and Dalian, sucks up 30,000 cubic meters of polluted air per hour, cleans it at the nano level — the PM2.5, PM10 particles — and then releases the clean air back into the city. (The tower is powered by solar energy.)
It’s incredibly effective: the air around the tower is 55 to 75 percent cleaner than the rest of the city.
But after the gnarly, sooty particles are filtered out of the air, they don’t just disappear — they need somewhere to go.
“We had buckets of this disgusting material in our studio,” says Roosegaarde.
His team was planning to throw it out when they had a eureka moment — 42 percent of the particles they collected are made of carbon, they realized. And what do you get when you compress carbon?
You get diamonds, of course.
The smog particles filtered by the tower are compressed for 30 minutes and turned into dark, boxy gems. The diamonds are then used for rings and cufflinks, each representing 1,000 cubic meters of pollution. Roosegaarde says a couple even used a smog ring as an engagement ring.
They’re the ultimate waste-to-wonder conversion: toxic pollution transformed into gemstones.
But Beijing isn’t the only polluted city out there. Roosegaarde is headed to India next. He plans to build Smog Free Towers across the nation to help Delhi and other municipalities turn their dirty air into objects to treasure.
He’s also partnering with NGOs, governments, students and tech companies to come up with other solutions to help reduce air pollution in our cities.
“It’s all about connecting new technology with creative thinking,” says Roosegaarde. “If you start thinking about that, there is so much you can imagine, so much more you can do.”
Written by Hailey Reissman