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Smog-Eating Cement Coming to Streets Near You

There are many sustainable technologies being used today by designers to provide green architecture and “green” environments. One of these technologies is smog-eating cement, or photocatalytic cement, which is capable of eradicating the air around it of pollution. Some estimates cite that this cement can in fact reduce the levels of certain pollutants by as much as 20% to 70% depending on local conditions and the amount of exposed surface area. A study of busy roadways in the Netherlands found that photocatalytic concrete decreased nitrogen oxide levels by 25% to 45%. 

Smog-eating cement was developed by a leading Italian cement maker, Italcementi, for the Vatican, which commissioned the construction of the Jubilee Church to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the Christian faith. The architect, Richard Meier, wanted the surface material not to be affected by Rome’s high levels of air pollution. The cement maker used titanium oxide that, when exposed to natural sunlight, triggers a chemical reaction that catalyzes the decomposition of dirt or grime on the cement’s surface; so, it’s self-cleaning. Further research uncovered that the cement also possessed pollution-reduction properties capable of cleaning up smog in adjacent air – up to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) away – by breaking down the nitrogen oxides that are the result of burning fossil fuels. 

Italy, the Netherlands and other areas in Europe began using the photocatalytic cement as paving material for roads to reduce the amount of toxins expelled by vehicles and inhaled by pedestrians. Also, one of the more well-known examples of this self-cleaning cement is the Air France headquarters in Roissey-Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. The headquarters is housed in a very white building that has remained so through the years.

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