The aluminum giant Alcoa is launching a new self-cleaning building material that can help decompose airborne pollutants that stick to surfaces, much the same as trees and other plants do. The new material, a pre-coated architechtural panel called “Reynobond with EcoClean,” is the result of a collaboration between Alcoa and the Japanese manufacturer TOTO. It’s based on titanium dioxide, the common white pigment with about a million different uses that is rapidly emerging as a sustainability powerhouse.
The Quest for Pollution-Eating Fake Trees
Researchers have long been trying to translate the air cleansing power of plants into new technology that could enable man-made surfaces to do double duty as pollution fighters. A tree-like form, of course, is totally unnecessary but could be useful depending on the setting. At Columbia University, for example, researchers are working with a firm called Global Research Technology to trap carbon dioxide and recycle it to produce synthetic fuels. In New Zealand, a company called LanzaTech has developed a system for trapping waste gas from industrial processes and converting it to fuel.
Titanium Dioxide and Sustainability
Titanium dioxide is used in a startling array of products, from skim milk and house paint to tooth paste and medications, and now it’s being put to work in the sustainable future. One example is a new surface treatment for concrete and asphalt roads developed by the company Pureti, which creates a photocatalytic reaction to break down air pollutants including nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide (a photocatalytic reaction is a process speeded up by the presence of light). At Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, researchers are using nanocrystals of titanium dioxide to develop a more energy efficient way to produce hydrogen for fuel cells.
Alcoa and Sustainability
Alcoa is one example of a global company that has proved to be highly adaptable to the sustainable future. In addition to the new building material, it is also working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop a low cost concentrating solar power system, and building elements from its subsidiary Kawneer helped the Pittsburgh Penguins score enough points to become the National Hockey League’s first team to achieve LEED Gold status for its new arena.
Image: Tree by jpcolasso on flickr.com.