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Business unusual: four innovations to clear the air

As a global movement to tackle air pollution gathers pace, innovators are rising to the challenge, unveiling products and technologies that remove some of the dangerous toxins that are seeping into our lungs and accelerating climate change.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year around 7 million premature deaths are caused by air pollution. That’s 800 people dying every hour. But the good news is that there is a growing public understanding that action must be taken.
Here are four innovative businesses and their cutting-edge technologies to beat air pollution:
Special paint gives Mexican murals super powers
Mexico City may be infamous for its smog but it’s also renowned for its murals, and now the two have come together in a startlingly innovative way. The Absolut Street Trees initiative involves artists painting giant murals in the city using Airlite paint, which purifies polluted air in a process similar to photosynthesis.
One of the murals—a giant 35-metre tree on the busy Paseo de la Reforma boulevard—was produced by Spanish collective Boa Mistura, while Mexican artists Revost and Seher One are painting two other works. The project is backed by French alcohol manufacturer Pernod Ricard.
When the paint is exposed to sunlight, the surrounding air is oxygenated through a chemical reaction. The project’s creators say the murals should neutralize the equivalent of the pollution created by around 60,000 vehicles a year. The paint lasts about 10 years.
“Art is part of the change because it is no longer just in a picture or a book but now it is part of the street, and it becomes part of the city,” Revost explained in a video. “I feel good because I can bring about environmental change through my work.”
The BioSolar Leaf that will do the work of 100 trees
Scientists at Imperial College, London are collaborating with start-up Arborea on the world’s first BioSolar Leaf—large panels covered with tiny plants that mop up carbon dioxide and release oxygen at a rate equivalent to 100 trees from the surface area of a single tree. The cultivation system also generates organic biomass from which Arborea extracts food additives for plant-based food products.
Imperial College will provide Arborea with funding to develop an outdoor pilot at the university’s White City Campus in London to mitigate the facility’s environmental impact.
Around two million people live with illegal air pollution in London and the city’s authorities say they are determined to tackle the toxins. “Air pollution is one of London’s most urgent challenges,” said Professor Neil Alford of Imperial College. “Through our White City masterplan, we are bringing forward sustainable solutions that have the potential to improve environmental outcomes in west London, throughout the United Kingdom, and across the world.”
When is a tree not a tree? When it’s a CityTree
German start-up Green City Solutions’ mossy living walls, built over wooden benches, are the world’s first intelligent biotech air filter—and a welcome space to sit after hours of walking around the city.
The wall is made of a variety of moss types that naturally absorb pollution. The moss is sheltered by shade-giving plants, allowing it to thrive in an otherwise hostile urban environment. Solar panels power the installation, which also collects rainwater and redistributes it through an inbuilt irrigation system. The living walls also have a cooling effect on the surroundings.
“The ability of certain moss cultures to filter pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides from the air make them ideal natural air purifiers. But in cities, where air purification is a great challenge, mosses are barely able to survive due to their need for water and shade. This problem can be solved by connecting different mosses with fully automated water and nutrient provision based on unique Internet of Things technology,” the company says.
The wall’s creators say it can absorb as much pollution as hundreds of trees using only a fraction of the land space.
Last year, real estate company The Crown Estate installed one near London’s busy Piccadilly Circus. The system has also been trialled in Paris and Berlin.
“Air quality is the number one concern for our residents and with over a million people moving into and travelling to our neighbourhoods each day, it is crucial that we make more strides to clean up our air and tackle poor air quality for residents and visitors alike,” said David Harvey of Westminster City Council, which supported the London installation.
Houses to reduce smog with special roofing granules
In the United States, manufacturing conglomerate 3M has designed smog-reducing granules that turn roofing shingles into a pollution-fighting surface. Roofing granules are often used to coat rooftops and protect against UV rays, helping keep buildings cool and making them less dependent on air conditioning.
3M designed its new granules with a photocatalytic coating which is activated by the sun’s UV rays, generating radicals that bind with the chemicals in smoggy air and transform them into water-soluble ions that eventually wash away.
Tests by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that an average-sized roof coated in granules removes as much pollution from the air as three trees.
“We view smog-reducing technology, embedded into mainstream roofing materials, as a great step forward in addressing air quality and climate concerns,” said Jonathan Parfrey, founder and executive director of non-profit Climate Resolve.

Air pollution is the theme forWorld Environment Day on 5 June 2019. The quality of the air we breathe depends on the lifestyle choices we make every day. Learn more about how air pollution affects you, and what is being done to clean the air. What are you doing to reduce your emissions footprint and#BeatAirPollution?

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