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This Pollution-Absorbing Cement Could Clean Up Smoggy Cities

This space-age building has the ability to make the air cleaner — and just might be the future of green design.

Photo by Giacomo Carena/Flickr.

It’s a health concern that’s easy to ignore because we often can’t see it, but air pollution kills roughly 4.6 million people each year. In Italy alone, nearly 100,000 people died in 2012 as a result of poor air quality. For this reason and more, Italian scientists have teamed up with the building company Italcementi to create a type of concrete that draws pollutants right out of the air.

Here’s how it works: When the sun’s ultraviolet light comes in contact with the cement, it interacts with a titanium catalyst. This chemical reaction pulls in toxins and forms harmless salts that wash away when it rains. “Additionally, the mortar is made from 80% recycled aggregates, part of which consist of scraps from the cutting of Carrara marble, and therefore provide a superior brilliance compared to traditional white cements,” the company said in a statement.

This invention isn’t just in its early stages either. Designers built the Palazzo Italia in Milan in 2015 using the pollution-absorbing cement in an attempt to reduce the city’s apocryphal smog levels. According to innovation director Enrico Borgarello, the building used 9,000 square meters (or 2,200 tons) of the cement, which can remove the equivalent of smog emitted by 300 gas-powered cars each year. As an added bonus, the building uses 40% less energy than other high-rises and generates its own energy with the help of a solar-panel roof. According to early projections, using the material on 15% of Milan’s light-exposed surfaces could reduce the city’s smog levels by half.

On top of all that, the building looks as futuristic as its materials would imply. With a bright white webbed design on its surface, the building is a novel addition to Milan’s stone-paved streets. Looking at it, you’d never know it is cleansing the air of harmful particles.

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