Hong Kong air quality

Hong Kong’s smog is one of the biggest downsides to what is one of the world’s most dynamic and visually stunning cities. Views of Victoria Peak and Hong Kong Harbour too often are obscured by a choking haze.

Expatriates grumble, and some have moved to Singapore, while locals who want a better life for their kids simply emigrate. There’s good reason: Air pollution kills some 3, 000 people a year in Hong Kong.

Now comes a novel way of at least spotlighting the problem, if not fixing it. Property developer Sino Group has teamed up with engineering-and-urban design experts Arup to develop a roadside air purifier that offers some hope of relief.

The purifier is like a big outdoor version of the sort of air purifiers that are usually found in houses and apartments. Placed on the busy Queen’s Road East in Hong Kong’s crowded Wanchai district, the prototype looks like a tram or bus shelter.

The device sucks up air near ground level and, after passing through a filtration bag that removes not only PM 10 but also finer PM 2.5 particulates (these measure the size of particulates – smaller ones are more dangerous), and pumps out fresh air through louvers at the top.

The fresh air forms an air curtain, so anyone standing inside is largely sealed off from particulates. Preliminary data show a 30% to 70% reduction in particulate matter – nothing to sneeze at. Jimmy Tong of Arup, an engineer who helped develop the purifier, said that the device can also help create air movement, cutting down on the street canyon effect, where buildings prevent the flow of air.

The prototype, which was installed in late March for a several-week trial, also includes a sensor to collect real time data and is connected to the government’s air quality health index, allowing hourly comparison with street side monitoring stations.

If the experiment proves effective, Sino says that the device could be put at bus stops and tram stops as well as outside buildings. Power could come from solar panels or even from piezoelectricity, power created by stepping on special energy tiles.

This purifier is not going to solve Hong Kong’s air quality problem, but at least it might provide commuters with a bit of relief from the gritty roadside pollution. It can also provide a cooling mist for a bit of extra relief in Hong Kong’s hot summers.

Darryl Ng, Columbia-educated son of Sino founder Robert Ng, heads the group’s sustainability committee and has a penchant for technological solutions to environmental problems. Earlier, he tried out a system to use a building’s water supply to produce electricity using micro-turbines.

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