How about to clean up city air we use… cars?

What’s happening? Heatherwick Studio has revealed a concept for an electric vehicle (EV) that can “vacuum up” air pollution generated from other cars while in motion. Designed for IM motors, the Airo model will be installed with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtering system that is capable of actively cleaning air. It will also feature driver-controlled and autonomous operation modes. The car will have a flexible interior so it can be reorganised to be used as a dining or sleeping space. (Dezeen)

Why does this matter? Air quality is pretty terrible in urban areas around the world. City air pollution levels worldwide are on average around four times higher than those recommended by the World Health Organization, with the highest levels recorded in cities in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and China.

In Europe the picture isn’t much better. Historic policies to promote diesel vehicles – themselves ironically aimed at reducing CO2 emissions – have resulted in (predictable) declines in air quality in many of the continent’s cities.

This poor air can have significant impacts on human health – many of which are still not fully understood. Analysissuggests 160,000 premature deaths in Shanghai, Tokyo, Dehli, Mexico City and Sao Paulo in 2020 alone were the result of particulate matter (PM) air pollution. On top of this, research has linked air pollution exposure to dementia, and it has even been tied to depression.

Heatherwick isn’t the only architect and design studio attempting to grapple with the problem – building designs are adapting to mitigate or dampen the effects of bad air.

How does it work? The Airo concept (not the first time Heatherwick has stepped into vehicle design) is electric, so it will have no tailpipe emissions, and it will be fitted with the HEPA system on its undercarriage to “vacuum” PM from the air as it travels. While it’s not clear whether the system will use power to filter air, HEPA filters are effective in trapping PM. They don’t, however, clean other air pollutants like nitrogen dioxide – though advanced filters can do this – so Airo may only tackle part of the problem.

Mobile air pollution solutions – While a host of stationary objects have been designed to improve city air, and the humble tree does a good job, other methods to tackle the problem on the move are being utilised. As we highlighted last week, Voi has launched an e-scooter with air-pollution sensors that can help users avoid pollution hotspots. City traffic managers can also access the scooters’ data to inform measures aimed at improving air quality.

Elsewhere, in Salt Lake City, researchers have installed sensors on trains to monitor air quality and CO2 emissions as they move across the city.

So that’s it, we switch to vacuum cars to drive around in and all is good? Not really. Transport is just one part of the picture and to tackle air pollution at source cleaner fuels and electrification will need to be deployed in buildings, as well as across the vehicle fleet. This will take time. What’s more, while EVs don’t have tailpipes that contribute to air pollution, their tyres and brakes do add to the problem – and research suggests these sources can be significant. Engineers are looking to tackle that problem too.

The best thing you can do to make a contribution to urban air quality in the short term? Get on your bike.

Share This Post

You might also like

Oil and gas

Billions of tonnes of carbon to be emitted by 20 nations’ proposed oil and gas projects by 2050: report

What’s happening? The top 20 global oil and gas producers are poised to release 173 billion tonnes of carbon emissions ...

Read more

Sam Robinson
September 19, 2023

Avatar photo

UNEP issues first draft of global treaty to cut plastic pollution

What’s happening? The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has published its first draft of a global treaty to end plastic pollution by ...

Read more

Nicola Watts
September 14, 2023

Avatar photo
Iceberg in water

As the ice melts in the Arctic, concerns grow over its exploitation

What’s happening? As the Arctic's drifting sea ice steadily diminishes, the area becomes more vulnerable to fishing, shipping, mining, and pollution. ...

Read more

Dillon Creedon
September 8, 2023