Breathe Easier – The Technology Fighting Pollution

Danielle Beurteaux

If citizens of Beijing want some healthy air, they have to take matters into their own hands. At the end of last year, the city’s government announced the first red-level alert for air pollution, when the pollution was 10 times higher than WHO’s recommended levels. So Chinese consumers are buying personal air purifying devices so they can breathe easier.

Laser Eggs, a product made by local company Origins Technology, monitors and purifies air. Reportedly, thousands of the units have been sold in China since the product hit the local market in 2013.

The problem of air pollution isn’t, of course, only in China. The WHO estimates that 7 million people died from the effects of air pollution in 2012. What that has meant is a jump in technology that tracks air quality and provides some immediate relief for anyone trying to breathe.

In June 2015, the TZOA air tracker raised 152% of the campaign’s goal on crowdfunding site Indiegogo. The TZOA tracks more than air quality – it also covers UV, humidity, temperature, and a bunch of other metrics. All that data is collected and then delivered via a smartphone app. It’s also used to crowdsource research sent to the cloud for real-time mapping. (The device is a bit delayed, in case you were hoping for one soon.)

There are quite a few products that have appeared on the market in the past year or so that promise to monitor indoor and outdoor air quality, and more are trying to raise money with crowdfunding campaigns. There’s the Speck sensor, which monitors indoor air only, and the AirVisual Node, which also tracks outdoor air and aims to use the collected data to map global pollution levels.

Home appliance company Dyson recently released its Pure Cool Link fan, which monitors both indoor and outdoor air quality. It also cleans air with a HEPA filter, and the unit is controllable with an app.

Two of the problems with personal air purification devices are size and power. Researchers at the University of Southampton and the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have created a graphene-based sensor and switch that can detect pollutants without using much power, which the researchers call “extreme monitoring.”

What about taking care of outside air? Apart from planting a million trees, there are some interesting ideas being tested to help clean the air outside. The German startup Green City Solutions created the CityTree, which isn’t actually a tree. It’s a bench with a tall wall attached. The wall is covered in bio-engineered moss and acts as a pollution filter and cooling system. The inventors claim that it has the air cleaning properties of 275 trees. A chain of the units, they say, could act as a pollution-filtering wall. The pilot installations are in Oslo, Norway, and a handful of German cities; they’re expected to install more in Asia and Europe later this year.

While some areas have improved air quality, there are many places where breathing is unhealthy. The American Lung Association just released its annual “State of the Air” report; it claims that over 50% of Americans live in areas with bad air. Until high-level policy changes that would have the biggest effect on pollution levels happen, a personal air cleaner might bring some immediate relief.

Or you could grow a pollution-filtering “nose-stache.”

The Digital Economy isn′t on the horizon. It′s here, and it’s time for you to take advantage of the opportunities it presents. For more, read The Digital Economy: Disruption, Transformation, Opportunity.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.