Imagine going to work in a building that’s also hard at work – eating the smog around it.
It’s not science fiction. In fact, the self-cleaning buildings could be here sooner than you think. Last week, aluminum giant Alcoa Architectural Products and Japanese manufacturing company Toto launched an architectural panel that helps clean itself and the air around it. Called “Reynobond with EcoClean,” the panels utilize technology that activates antimicrobial agents in the presence of sunlight – which the company has used in self-cleaning bathroom fixtures – and applies it to a hydrophilic (that’s “water-loving” to you and me) titanium dioxide coating on the surface of one of Alcoa’s pre-painted aluminum panels. The result is a building panel activated by sunlight to serve as a catalyst in breaking down pollutants on the surface and in the surrounding air. Once they’re broken down, rainwater rinses them away in sheets.
Alcoa’s press release says that a building covered with 10,000 square feet of the panels would have the same daily air-cleaning properties as 80 trees, counteracting the pollution output of four cars per day. In an interview with Forbes, company president Craig Belnap said that aluminum panels are installed on some 14 billion square feet of buildings in North America and Europe. “If a fraction of those surfaces use the EcoClean product, it would be the equivalent of planting several million trees.” He also told Forbes that the companies’ research shows that the coating could be applied to all painted surfaces. (“Imagine your ride’s paint job counteracting the pollution spewing from its tailpipe,” the article speculates, though it says this won’t happen anytime soon.)
The idea of smog-eating building materials isn’t totally new, notes green blog Jetson Green, which points to the roof tiles made by MonierLifetile that debuted on a KB Home prototype last year in California. It also neutralizes nitrogen oxides in the air when activated by sunlight, with rain cleaning them away. According to the company, a 2,000 square foot roof can clean about the same amount of nitrogen oxide that a car emits by driving 10,800 miles.
The only slight drawback could be cost. The Jetson Green article said no pricing was available, but that there was a reported price premium. Belnap told Forbes that the new panels would carry a 4 or 5 percent premium over panels that don’t eat the smog, plus the cost savings on building cleaners. An ROI calculator on the Alcoa website lets you plug in how much you’d be saving on building maintenance at different building sizes. And then, of course, there are the bragging rights of owning a smog-eating skyscraper. Priceless? Weigh in here.