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Pollution-Eating Cement

Posted on Nov 11, 2006

An Italian cement company has developed a treatment for building materials that transforms pollutants into less harmful substances, such as water and carbon dioxide.  Experts suggest that covering 15 percent of a smog-choked industrial city like Milan could reduce pollution by 50 percent.

(h/t: Engadget)

Business Week:

The results so far are astonishing: A street in the town of Segrate, near Milan, with an average traffic of 1,000 cars per hour, has been repaved with the compound, “and we have measured a reduction in nitric oxides of around 60%,” says Italcementi’s spokesperson Alberto Ghisalberti. In a test over an 8,000 square meter (or approximately 2 acres) industrial area paved with active blocks near Bergamo, Italcementi’s hometown, the reduction was measured at 45%.

In large cities such as Milan, with persistent pollution problems caused by car emissions, smoke from heating systems, and industrial activities, both the company and outside experts estimate that covering 15% of all visible urban surfaces (painting the walls, repaving the roads) with products containing TX Active could abate pollution by up to 50%, depending on the specific atmospheric conditions.

Of course, this approach isn’t meant to replace efforts to curb pollution, but it can significantly magnify their effects. Here’s how it works: The active principle—basically a blend of titanium dioxide that acts as photocatalyzer—can be incorporated in cement, mortar, paints, and plaster.

In the presence of natural or artificial light (this applies also indoors) the photocatalyzer significantly speeds up the natural oxidation processes that cause the decomposition of pollutants, transforming them into less harmful compounds such as water, nitrates, or carbon dioxide.


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By ProfessionalPhoto, March 14, 2011 at 9:23 am Link to this comment

This is an absolutely amazing idea, I wonder if any progress has been made?

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By conservatoryroofs, December 9, 2010 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment

What a tremendous piece of work from the scientists. We may just save this planet yet…



conservatory roofs

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By Spinoza, November 13, 2006 at 4:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Plant forests and start tearing down some of our urban sprawl. Consolidate buildings and build up to very tall buildings and build down to underground buildings. Paint or color everything white. Maximize the use of solar energy. Use our hydrocarbon resources much more wisely and we will reduce global warming and intelligently use hydrocarbons so that burning them doesn’t harm us. Yes technology can save us if we want to use it. Important, get rid of outmoded ideas about markets. Markets are the antithesis of sound planning.

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By Donovan, November 13, 2006 at 3:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Problems with NH’s comment #37764:
“Green bio-fuels are a valid option.”
There’s no such thing as a “green” biofuel.

“Burning Carbon based bio-fuels only adds another loop to the system.”
All biofuels are carbon based.

“However, in order to be effective bio-fuels must be truly green.”
All biofuels are not truly “green.”

Your heart is in the right place, as in you want to stop global warming, but you have some misconceptions.  These misconceptions I have noticed with most of America, so that’s why I wrote my little dissertation.  Please see my previous comment for an explanation.

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By Spinoza, November 12, 2006 at 10:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Oy, the Luddites are out trying to blame everything on technology.

HINT:  the Luddites were not against technology, they were against themselves being harmed by technology. They did not want to be unemployed and not be able to eat given the economic system of the day. Intelligent people try to figure out how technology can better our lives—-in the context of an overall ethic that teaches us to live responsibly. Liberals seem to want to blame technology for the failure of capitalism to establish rational systems.  Another hint, capitalism is the problem!!!

It is my educated bet that a very very major cause of global warming—-and the water shortage is the fact that we have been destroying vegetation to an absolutely stupid degree The salvation is in reforestation and in changing to growing potatoes instead of wheat and other grasses. It is my understanding that potatoes release much more O2 and use much more CO2 than grasses.

Liberals are going to hate me for saying this but there is also a lot of evidence that lakes formed by man made dams do us more good than harm. Dams mostly greatly improve water conservation.  Improve reforestation efforts. Improve food supplies. Reduce flooding. And supply us with a relatively clean source of energy.

Sorry but man made efforts are not all bad.

This company claiming that white paint (and other applications of TiO2) will reduce pollution might very well be good news for the short run. Actually, in thinking about it, white paint might be even good to reduce global warming. White reflects back a great deal of heat so painting a good deal of man made surfaces white should significantly reduce surface temperatures. This is a hypothesis I just made up but it makes good sense.

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By MARIAM RUSSELL, November 12, 2006 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you,Donovan. I hope you do not mind, I e-mailed myself a copy for I need to commit that piece to memory to be able to use with my friends and family… say nothing of some of the less bright blogers here on the internet. I am 65 so that requires time and a copy near to hand.

We have learned to be cautious, have we not, Mike? If a corporation tells you they have the cure for cancer or a cure for pollution, or even that is is light at 7AM…...check, verify, wait to see how many their product kills, etc., etc., etc.

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By NH, November 12, 2006 at 1:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Green bio-fuels are a valid option.  The Earth has a natural process of cycling Carbon Dioxide in and out of the ground.  This is a well known system studied long before global warming debate became an issue.  Without the natural storage process Earth’s atmosphere would be about as thick as the Venetian atmosphere.  Burning Carbon based bio-fuels only adds another loop to the system.  Fossil fuels however, pulls Carbon Dioxide out of the ground thousands if not millions of years before it would have naturally been recycled.  The build up in the atmosphere is evidence that we are pulling it out faster than the natural system buries it. The natural system which buries CO2 would eventually mop up the excess generated over the last two hundred years if given a chance.  Irregardless whether we go to pure Hydrogen or mix Hydrogen bio-fuel economy.

However, in order to be effective bio-fuels must be truly green.  Bio-fuels generated by use of Fossil fuel energy sources will not reduce CO2 buildup in the atmosphere.

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By Crystal, November 12, 2006 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We must regain control of our corporations to fully seize the ability to stop global warming. We have the technology to create MUCH more efficient modes of transportation, without even changing the fact that we drive cars! We can stop global warming in it’s tracks, but powerful corporations are suppressing vital information, coupled by the fact they practically own our government, or those therein. GOOGLE “JOE CELL”, OR “STANLEY MEYER”, RESEARCH IT, CREATE IT… AND PASS IT ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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By Donovan, November 12, 2006 at 3:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am writing this statement because of what I have heard from those who are leading the efforts against global warming and the speeches made by politicians.  There is a gross misconception regarding the differences between standard gasoline burning automobiles and those that run on alternatives such as biodiesel or ethanol: alternative fuels are as detrimental to the global climate as standard gasoline due the release of carbon dioxide.  Almost everyone who knows anything about global warming knows of the nexus between increasing carbon dioxide concentrations and climate change, so when I hear key speakers say that investments need to be made to support biofuels I realize that there is a need for a quick lesson on basic chemistry.  I’ve tried to make this lesson as short and simple as possible, so please bear with me because this is very important.

In my first-year chemistry course in college we learned of the generic formula for a combustion reaction: a hydrocarbon plus oxygen yields water and carbon dioxide.

Generic Formula
Hydrocarbon +  O2 —>  H2O +  CO2
Example: Ethanol
2C2H5OH +  6O2 —>  6H2O +  4CO2

Water and carbon dioxide are the ideal products of the reaction.  As with every chemical reaction there is not a complete transformation of the reactants into the products, thus you are left with various mixes of products, or pollutants, like carbon monoxide (CO), or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).  These products, formed from the incomplete transformation of the reactants, are what give us the visible air pollution.  Carbon dioxide and water are transparent.  Now, what’s a hydrocarbon?  That’s almost anything that you’ve ever seen in flames: match sticks, the butane of a cigarette lighter, barbeque flames, coal, flames from natural gas stoves, the explosion inside your car from the gasoline, jet fuel, paper, etc.  If it’s burning, it’s probably a hydrocarbon—including ethanol and any biofuel.

This is important because if a magic wand could be waved over all the crude oil in the world and turn it into a biofuel or ethanol, then global warming would continue to persist due to the continued release of carbon dioxide.  That is, no matter what kind of fuel you put into a car—gasoline, biofuel, ethanol, coal—you’ll get carbon dioxide out of the tail pipe.  In fact, if everything that burns oil today were to switch over to a perfectly “clean” burning fuel, then global warming would increase at a faster rate and we would have less time to combat it.

This is due to the phenomenon of solar dimming presented by the episode of the Nova television show titled “Dimming the Sun.” (You need to watch this show) This episode chronicles the accidental discovery from two independent scientists that the solar energy reaching the ground level of the planet is steadily less each year due to the visible air pollution we generate.  This factor has been unaccounted for in every climate model predicting the effects of global warming, thus the effects are going to be more severe than what is expected and will come sooner than expected.

Right now humans are inadvertently slowing the global warming epidemic by polluting the air with soot, sulfur, nitrogen oxides, and other solid or visible pollutants.  These substances are causing solar dimming, which is counteracting global warming.  Therefore the worst thing we can do is switch to “clean” fuels while still expending the fuels at the same rate thereby continuing to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without the “benefit” of visible pollution to dim the sun.

Any effort made to wean America from foreign oil is an effort I support, short of drilling for new, domestic oil (Alaska).  However, alternative fuels do nothing to help the global warming problem.  What will aid in reducing global warming are methods of energy generation like hydroelectric, solar, wind, and fuel cells—whose only product is electricity and/or water (no carbon dioxide)—because there is no combustion reaction.

We need to discontinue the use of the word “clean” when describing any hydrocarbon used for energy production via combustion.  It is a misnomer, and is contributing to society’s misunderstanding of the problem.  No hope can be harbored in saving ourselves from global warming if the majority does not understand the problem.  If your fuel emits carbon dioxide, then it’s not clean.

Air pollution has historically been restricted to the visible pollution found around major cities—smog.  “Clean” fuels have since come to mean a fuel that doesn’t produce visible pollution, and thus is considered to be eco-friendly.  Carbon dioxide needs to be included in the meaning of pollution, when it’s produced in the amounts that we produce it.  (Trees take in carbon dioxide and put out oxygen; humans take in oxygen and put out carbon dioxide.  So we can’t ever, and shouldn’t advocate, eradicating carbon dioxide.)  However, if carbon dioxide is still produced, then it isn’t eco-friendly.

The root cause to global warming is the excessive desire for energy from an overpopulated world.

Today we are focused on “How can I use a different source of energy and still continue my daily routine as before?”  We should be concentrating on “How can I reduce my demand for energy.”  This requires sacrifices to be made by everyone.  We can no longer afford the luxury of allowing any Joe Consumer to drive a sport utility vehicle or drive a Ford Super Duty truck—or to drive anything propelled by combusting gasoline.  Automobiles were borne from a need to transport oneself and belongings from place to place only to quickly grow into a symbol of status and a form of recreation.  Those were selfish times—these are selfish times—and we’re paying for them now.

The $3 billion donated by Richard Branson to and the $7 billion total of the Clinton Global Initiative need to go towards research and development of producing energy that does not result in carbon dioxide emission.  Fuel cells, solar energy, wind energy, and others are the only way to fight global warming.  Perhaps nuclear energy could be part of the solution, but that should be debated with the public’s involvement and a meticulous consideration given to the environmental impact of each nuclear plant.  At the same time we need to educate the population on our egregious use of energy.  We need to reduce the number of miles we drive and the number the kilowatt-hours we demand.

I am unaware of any extensive study that has been conducted on the claim that fuels derived from organic life, e.g. ethanol, has a zero net gain of carbon dioxide production due to the consumption of carbon dioxide by the plants from which the fuel is made.  So far, I believe, this argument is still in the philosophical stage.  For this claim to be substantial the rate of carbon dioxide consumption by the particular plants that yield the fuel would have to be known and would have to be equal to or greater than the rate of production from the use of the biofuel.  This data has not been supplied.  Furthermore,  plant life consumes zero amounts of carbon dioxide molecules that are at elevations beyond the reach of the plants, and the carbon dioxide that gathers over bodies of water like all of the world’s oceans—two thirds of the planet’s surface.  Yes, the wind blows, but assuming that the carbon dioxide production rate was equal to that of the consumption rate there would still not be a one-for-one exchange due to collections of carbon dioxide in places where there are no plants.  Moreover, for this theory of the conservation of carbon dioxide molecules to hold true the factories that receive the plant life to manufacture the biofuel would have to be powered from a non-carbon-dioxide emitting source, e.g. solar powered.  Otherwise, there are two producers of carbon dioxide with one consumer.  Most importantly it can easily be recognized that currently plant life is by far unable to keep up with carbon dioxide emissions, therefore we need to reduce the total amount of carbon dioxide we produce.

If today’s rate of carbon dioxide emissions were that of the early twentieth century, then we would have a negligible concern for what we used to fuel our needs for energy.  It would make no difference whether we used ethanol, gasoline, or solar technology.  The fact is that we have raised the bar for how much energy require, and it is more than Mother Nature—indeed ourselves—can withstand.

Fuel cells require hydrogen gas.  That element is gained by either electrolysis, which requires electricity, or by separating it from fossil fuels, resulting in carbon dioxide emission.  So rather than investing in research and development of energy production that will not curb global warming—ethanol, coal, oil—funding should be directed to clean hydrogen production.

I contend that a root cause to why we—Earth’s people—are languishing in our reserves of crude oil is that we’re discounting the necessity to halt global warming by saying that alternative sources of energy cannot measure up to the needs met by gasoline powered cars.  Well, I say we need to change our needs.  If a fuel cell powered car can only run for 200 miles or less before the need to be refueled, then so be it.  We don’t have the luxury of time to develop the perfect substitute to gasoline—we have to stop global warming, then figure out what to use instead of oil on a permanent basis.  If we simply reduced our demand for energy, then all of the alternatives to oil would become more practical and useful.

I believe a reason that any one alternative energy source—solar, wind, etc.—has not become prevalent in society is because we have expected that just one source is to supply our demands.  That simply won’t happen.  We need to develop and incorporate all methods of producing energy.  That is, we need to create the necessary infrastructure for energy generation via wind, solar, hydrodynamic, fuel cell cars, etc., all at once and use them in tandem.

It is not an unalienable right to be able to own and drive a Hummer, Ford Super Duty truck, or sports car.  These vices will have to cease.  There are alternatives to gas-fueled sports cars.  Tesla Motors has built an electric car with a polyphase AC motor that has 248 hp and 200 ft-lbs of torque that pulls 1 g during acceleration.  The fact is fossil fuels are not required to sustain the forms of recreation and convenience derived from automobiles.  Another necessary substitute for our personal vehicles is mass transit.

After we divest ourselves of our gas guzzlers, then the transition to utilizing mass transit will be easier to digest.  There is no argument that can legitimately disprove the benefits of society taking an eco-friendly train to work, or altering some industries to allow for telecommuting.  By far most of the cars stuck on the freeways in the mornings and evenings are occupied by only one person—it is a selfish waste of resources.

Just consider what happened to California this last summer when there was about two weeks of daily highs above one hundred degrees: there was a concern for having to initiate rolling blackouts from the energy companies due to the high demand for energy to run air conditioning units.  There were also several deaths due to the high temperatures.  This may have had nothing to do with global warming and would have occurred naturally, yet it presciently warns us as to what we will face as global warming continues and as we continue with our shroud of misunderstanding.

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By mike, November 12, 2006 at 12:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have to say I’m dubious about Technology solving the problems of Technology.  I believe that this substance does exactly what it says.  My concern would be about the things that weren’t focused on in this article or in the research for this substance:  pollution generated during its manufacture & dispposal, side-effects of the substance, and so on.  Also, we know about some pollutants, and this substance helps change some of the ones we know about.  How about the others we can’t yet detect?  How about the effect of the changed ratios of the remaining pollutants?

Finally, although the article tries to reassure us that “this approach isn’t meant to replace efforts to curb pollution”, it does seem to let us off the hook and reduce our responsibility for really doing something about the CAUSE of the problems we create.

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