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Can China vacuum away its smog problem?

Posting in Cancer

China's latest smog emergency is paralyzing local economies and putting people at risk of shortened life spans and even cancer. And it's not just limited to one or two cities; the smog problem is so vast you can see it from space.

So how can the smog be eliminated? The main answer is to dramatically reduce coal use. The Chinese government has already announced steps to do that. But it will be a slow transition away from coal. Chinese cities need solutions now.

Enter Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde.

He recently unveiled a new electronic vacuum cleaner that does this:

Smog by Studio Roosgaarde from Dezeen on Vimeo.

It literally sucks smog particles to the ground by creating an electromagnetic field using cooper coils. The idea is to deploy the technology in public spaces throughout smoggy Chinese cities to provide sunny oases of clean air that are 50-60 meters high.

Here's how it works, as The Verge reports:

The "vacuum" consists of a series of electrodes connected to a high-voltage power supply and placed a few centimeters above the ground. This creates a weak electrostatic field that imbues all nearby air and smog particles with a positive charge. A grounded device then pulls these particles to the ground, where they can be collected and disposed as normal waste.

But if it sounds like a crazy idea, it's one that the Chinese aren't ignoring. According to The Verge, Roosegaarde already has a working prototype that can purify 28,000 cubic meters "using less energy than a typical incandescent light bulb." And now he has signed a memorandum of understanding with the mayor of Beijing to begin testing the technology in a public park within a year.

But while its a fascinating use of technology and could provide much needed relief to Chinese suffering during extreme smog days, this is just a small patch over a much larger problem that will take time and billions of dollars to reverse.

Read more: Dezeen, The Verge

Photo: Flickr/Nicolò Lazzati

— By on October 31, 2013, 10:33 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure