BioUrban, the Mexican invention to combat air pollution
Written by Royal Society of Londres
If Mexico knows anything about air pollution: from time to time, the capital is paralyzed by the smoke from cars, industries and even the Popocatepetl volcano, but now a group of engineers has a proposal to reduce the problem.
This is BioUrban, a kind of artificial tree that, like its natural peers, absorbs pollution and returns clean air. The Mexican invention seems promising especially for those who suffer most from pollution: pedestrians, older adults and cyclists.
“What this system does, through technology, is to be able to inhale that contamination and then we use biology to perform the natural process as a tree does,” Jaime Ferrer, co-founder partner of BiomiTech, tells AFP. Young company behind BioUrban.
The metal structure – a mixture between a tree and a postmodernist tower – captures the contamination and through microalgae inside it performs a process of photosynthesis 365 days a year to return clean air.
Only one of the devices performs the work of some 368 real trees, according to their creators.
Despite this figure, Ferrer points out that the invention – which has an approximate height of four meters and almost three meters in diameter – does not seek to replace real trees but to complement them, since by its characteristics the system can be located in areas where it is difficult to reforest.
It can be installed “in places of high pedestrian, vehicular, cyclist, transport terminals, where one hectare of trees cannot be planted,” he says.
The first of these artifacts was installed in the capital of the central state of Puebla, near a university.
“It is interesting that it uses technology to help the environment because right now we do need it,” says María José Negrete, a 21-year-old student.
“BioUrban” is just one way to alleviate a major problem. About seven million people die in the world every year due to air pollution, according to the World Health Organization.
In Mexico City, one of the most polluted capitals in the region, the problem affects the quality of life of its nearly 20 million inhabitants.
In May, the megalopolis lived several days of environmental alert that forced the authorities to suspend classes in schools and restrict outdoor activities.
Behind the dense cloud of pollutants were the little more than five million cars that circulate daily, the industries and the continuous forest fires that were registered in nearby towns, in addition to the heat and activity that the neighboring Popocatépetl volcano registered.
For its inhabitants it is a common situation that requires more attention from the authorities.
Ferrer believes that to significantly reduce the problem in a city like this – where the points where purifying devices can be located are already being studied -, sources of pollution must be attacked and environmental standards tightened.
The system designed by BiomiTech “does not end with the contamination of Mexico City, it comes to relieve, it comes to remedy the problem of contamination at each intersection or place of high influx,” he adds.
The price of each BioUrban varies according to the projects, but is around $ 50,000.
The company plans to install the “trees” in the northern city of Monterrey – financed by civil society – and in the capital, where, as in Puebla, the municipalities have paid for the projects.
In addition, it installed devices in Turkey, in Colombia and in Panama.
A technology similar to that of BioUrban was used by the so-called City Tree, a square structure of German engineering launched in 2015 that uses moss to clean the air.