Why Smog Towers may not Solve the Problem of Air Pollution

Why Smog Towers may not Solve the Problem of Air Pollution

A huge tower spiraling into the sky is certainly a visual reassurance. It stands tall as a symbol of our grand endeavors to fight air pollution and restore public conscience. The question is: how sustainable are smog towers? This article examines the efficacy of smog towers against the context of how much attention they’ve gathered in the recent past.

Are smog towers really as promising as they are made out to be?

In recent times, smog towers have been erected in India amidst much appreciation and intrigue. Recently, a smog tower in Delhi was set up by Gautam Gambhir’s organization. According to a statement from his office, the 12-feet-tall air purifier can cover an area of 1,000 square meters and deliver 2 lakh cubic meter of clean air every day.

The support of celebrities like Gautam Gambhir has added to the glamour and promise of smog towers. While it is certainly appreciable that India has started installing home-produced smog towers, their efficacy and sustainability have been strongly questioned in recent times.

PHOTO COURTESY: NEW INDIAN EXPRESS There are several questions raised today as to how sustainable smog towers are.

1. Success yet to be seen to scale this technology

One of the first points of contention is their very high cost of installation. These massive structures take both immense time and money. The estimated cost of one smog tower set up in Connaught Place was ₹20 crore. Smog towers can range in height from 12 to 100 meters. Evidently, setting one up would take an exhaustive amount of time and labor. Imagine how much expense would be incurred by installing a mere ten towers in a city. The Delhi government itself has been quick to add that tangible results will have to be seen before they plan to install more smog towers across the city.

2. High costs of land and equipment reducing feasibility and viability

Dr. Srikanth Sola, CEO of Devic Earth, was asked to review a plan for setting up a smog tower in the periphery of Delhi. The cost of one hectare of land required for setting up the tower was ₹20 crore, and the tower itself would cost another 20 crores. Such high costs certainly make technological solutions not viable to set up and implement.

3. High maintenance despite huge CAPEX

Another of the questions raised pertains to the maintenance of smog towers. Depending on the technology used, a single smog tower may require several HEPA filters, or fabric/metal filters, which are mostly difficult to recycle. Maintaining a smog tower costs at least ₹ 30,000-40,000 per month. Since the filters are not recyclable, the cost of maintaining a smog tower would be very high. Consider also how much they would contribute to landfills, in the long term. It also remains to be seen exactly how efficient smog towers are.

4. Strong pollutants still present in the air

A recent experiment done in Delhi by the Help Delhi Breathe Initiative, among other organizations, demonstrated a pair of synthetic cloth-based “lungs” in a public space. Initially pure white, the display turned grey in less than 24 hours, and had blackened in a few days’ time. This is a gruesome reminder of how quickly polluted air impacts health, and leads us to wonder if systems like smog towers can actually work, since the level of pollution is so high.

PHOTO COURTESY: LFC.ORG.IN The deterioration of lungs is suggested by how quickly the colour of the installation changed from white to dark brown.

5. Limited coverage area, low efficiency and high cost

The shortfall with most outdoor air purification systems is limited area of coverage, limited efficacy and high cost. Recall the WAYU air purification systems installed at traffic points in Delhi, which ultimately came to be used as garbage bins. For any pollution control technology that requires constant maintenance, the lifelong process of having to follow up will increase the chances of it being neglected altogether. Especially in the absence of a functional regulatory body, these expensive installations become junk, pitifully draining taxpayers’ money.

The Solution

Devic Earth believes that sustainable and affordable air pollution control equipment needs to be made available to the general public. The most important step for effective air pollution control would be to reduce pollution at the source. It is necessary to use commercial air cleaners like Pure Skies, only when traditional methods of pollution control are insufficient. Technology can indeed go a long way in curbing pollution, when vetted for efficacy and cost-effectiveness. One must consider the long-term efficacy of any solution to environmental problems, and work towards satisfying all stakeholders: most importantly, the human community, and our planet.

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