A new attempt at purifying New Delhi’s notoriously polluted air will see 40 giant fans push out filtered air in the heart of the Indian capital’s posh downtown shopping district, but the US$2 million “smog tower” has no shortage of doubters who say it will not help a city notorious for some of the world’s dirtiest air.
The 25m tower is meant to filter air over a 1km2 radius around the swanky shops and cafes in Connaught Place. The neighbourhood’s British colonial-era buildings are hit by a gray-yellow smog every winter.
“Smog is an annual phenomenon because of particulate matter. So we are [trying] to contain this,” project head Anwar Ali Khan said.
The engineer added that the goal is to eliminate up to 50 percent of the most deadly PM2.5 — fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers — from the air.
The city has said that more towers could be built if the experiment works. Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal once called the Indian capital a “gas chamber” because of its intense pollution.
Experts say that while smog towers might work, they are just a pinprick against the relentless foe of vehicle fumes, construction dirt, industrial emissions and the agricultural stubble burning that engulf the city of more than 20 million.
“Installing smog towers has never been, and will never be a solution,” Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air analyst Sunil Dahiya said. “If we really, really want to address pollution, it has to be addressed at the source.”
Dahiya said that the tower will be powered by regular grid-based electricity with more than 70 percent of India’s electricity coming from coal, adding to pollution elsewhere in the country.
China built a 60m high smog tower in the badly polluted city of Xian, but the experiment has not spread to other cities. Delhi’s attempts to halve the number of vehicles allowed on the city’s roads have not had much success.
“Every government claims that they’re working to reduce pollution, but we don’t see the results,” Delhi resident Pradeep Kumar said.
Engineers hope to complete the smog tower by Aug. 15, when India celebrates Independence Day. More mega purifiers are already in the works in Delhi and Bengaluru.
“The objective is not to clear entire Delhi’s air, it is to create special zones where people can breathe,” Khan said.
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