Superb Idea: Buildings that Eat Smog

A new coating for aluminum panels will help our energy-hungry buildings clean the air themselves.

Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of America's energy use, and until we line the coast with wind turbines, a lot of that energy is going to come from coal plants and other dirty sources. So wouldn't it be nice if buildings themeselves could help clean the air?

Alcoa, a company that makes aluminum panels for the construction industry, recently announced a new coating with the overwrought brand name Reyobond with EcoClean. When applied to aluminum panels, the titanium dioxide coating interacts with sunlight to break down the smog-causing compound nitrogen oxide into an innocuous substance that washes off the building in a rain. Alcoa claims that 10,000 square feet of coated aluminum would have the air-cleaning effects of 80 trees.

As Nadav Malin, president of, says, "you'd have to have a lot of this out there in the built environment to make any dent in air pollution." But panels with EcoClean will only cost 5 percent more than their regular counterparts, and every little bit helps. Besides, the general idea of developing buildings that clean the environment themselves has thrilling potential.

Photo (cc) of Vancouver's Olympic Village, which used Alcoa aluminum, from Flickr user Payton Chung