Purging pollution - how this park bench is helping you breathe - KPTV - FOX 12

Purging pollution - how this park bench is helping you breathe

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(AP Photo) (AP Photo)
(AP Photo) (AP Photo)
(AP Photo) (AP Photo)

LONDON (MEREDITH/AP) -- It might not look like much, but this smart piece of urban furniture is creating a clean air bubble around it.

Created by London-based company Airlabs, this Clean Air Bench is fitted with air-cleaning units that filter harmful pollutants.

Air is drawn in through the back, trapping particles in a filtration system before gas pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, are absorbed.

Clean air is then dispensed from under the armrests and several other grills. The bench is fitted with five air-cleaning units in all.

"At certain points during people's day, they experience rapid spikes in the levels of these pollutants, especially by roads, across the transport system and in outdoor areas, anywhere outdoor central that's polluted," explains Airlabs CEO Sophie Power.

"So we want to reduce these spikes because they're most harmful to the health and we can do that by installing our units across a city."

This bench was created to showcase the technology, but the idea is the units can be fitted to everything from benches, to lampposts, bus shelters, and city walls.

Power claims it could also be used at outdoor restaurants or by school playgrounds.

The technology was developed over two years by experts here at the company's laboratory in Copenhagen Science City.

It was inspired by how pollution naturally breaks down in the atmosphere but sped up significantly.

The company was founded in 2014 as a research and design based organization.

They made filtering nanoparticles and nitrogen oxides, both caused by diesel exhaust fumes, a priority.

"We think that these delivery systems, the clean air delivery systems, can be incorporated into the urban environment," says Matthew Johnson, Airlabs chief science officer and a professor of chemistry at the University of Copenhagen.

"You could have them on a train platform, you could have them on a city street, maybe it would be a box or a light post that in addition to having a structural function, would also be delivering clean air."

Initial independent testing by London's Kings College in July 2016 found an Airlabs test unit removed more than 87 percent of nitrogen oxides.

The company claims it has since been able to improve on that to remove over 95 percent of nitrogen dioxide that passes through it.

Airlabs technology is also used in industrial settings, such as cleaning heavily polluted air from factories.

The company has designed a range of bus stops and street furniture and plans to soon launch a major pilot at a train or tube station to further test the technology.

"The question really is; 'How much clean air can you deliver? And can you compete with the wind?' And the answer, of course, is no you can't compete with the wind," says Johnson.

"The air pollution over a city like London could be kilometers thick, you can't clean all of that air, but if you focus on the places where people are, it's a much smaller volume of treated air that you need and we think there we can achieve success."

Ole John Nielsen, a professor of chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, says Airlabs technology is useful, but there are limits.

As a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Nielsen was one of many to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

"I think that the Airlabs technology is very useful in confined spaces like bus stops or waiting rooms, actually also small streets you could picture that it could actually improve air quality in those circumstances, but really it does have to be confined spaces," he says.

"The technology uses a surface catalyst, in order to make that work you have to have the molecules come to the surface and for the entire atmosphere that is not really possible.

"And there has been suggestions in the past to use this kind technology to clean the entire atmosphere, way back in the 90s and it was quickly proven that this is not a viable solution."

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 12.6 million people died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment in 2012 - that's almost one in four of total global deaths.

Copyright 2017 Meredith Corporation / Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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