Futuristic 300-foot Towers Proposed to Clean Toxic Air in World's Most Polluted City

A Dubai-based architecture firm has proposed a dramatic concept to address the problem of air pollution in New Delhi—giant filtration towers that wouldn't look out of place in a Hollywood vision of the future.

The Indian capital, which is overcrowded with both people and industries, has the worst air quality in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Power plants within the city limits, diesel exhaust emissions, pollution from industrial waste and dust from construction projects are all contributing factors.

Meanwhile, the illegal burning of crops in the adjacent farming regions has exacerbated the problem, contributing to a toxic smog during which pollution has been recorded at levels more than 40 times higher than the WHO's safe limits.

"The Smog Project" is a proposal put forward by architects Znera Space that involves using 330-foot tall towers spread around the city to remove tiny pollutants from the air, making it safer to breathe.

"The capital of India has been in the news because it has been blanketed with toxic smog," Najmus Chowdhry, Prinicpal architect at Znera told Newsweek. "Being from that region, the noxious air quality of the city impelled us to think of radical ideas to tackle the smog crisis."

"The Smog Project is a robust attempt to cleanse the smog and generate smog free air," he said. "I believe that architecture can create better places, affect society, and that we carry a heavy social responsibility to fix our built environment."

There are two major elements to the system, according to Chowdhry. The first is the smog towers themsleves, which are arranged in a hexagonal pattern. These are comprised of a filtration pod at the base which includes a series of filters and air cleaning mechanisms. At the core are propellers which force the cleaned air upwards to be released.

"The filtration pod captures the stagnant smog and pollutants near the ground close to where people are respiring," he said. "The hexagonal grid arrangement of the towers helps to contain clean air filtered out of the tower."

The second element is the solar-powered hydrogen fuel cells which power the towers. These are laid out in a hexagonal network of "sky bridges" between each unit.

"The connecting sky bridge has a series of hydrogen cells which capture polluted water and, through electrolysis, break water into hydrogen and oxygen," Chowdhry said. "The energy required for electrolysis is gained from solar cells. The hydrogen produced then propels the tower."

Znera claims that each tower will be able to purify more than 3.2 million cubic meters of clean air every day, reducing the smog rating down to moderate levels in the 1-square-kilometer area around each unit.

According to the architects, carbon particles that are captured in the air filters could even be recycled to create useful products such as concrete, graphene, fertilizers and inks.

An illustration of the air filtration towers. Znera

At present, the proposals are conceptual, and it is still unclear whether they could be effectively implemented in the city. But the company says they hope to have a working prototype ready within 2-3 years and are confident that the idea could work.

"The concept may present itself as a radical measure to confront the smog issue but it's still quite feasible," Chowdhry said. "We are aiming to localise it to a district scale to measure the success rate of the concept."

"In the existing scheme of design, the hexagonal grid is added as a layer to the existing urban fabric," he said. "However, there will be instances where the towers might overlap with an existing building, in which case that will have to be relocated."

The Smog Project has been shortlisted for this year's World Architecture Festival, Future Projects – Experimental category. The overall winners, including the Future project of the Year, will be announced live at the 3-day event (28th – 30th November) in Amsterdam.