Brush with Success

What if cleaning the air of pollutants was as easy as, well, letting paint dry? A new "ecopaint" could help win the war on urban pollution.

Innovation: A paint that absorbs pollution
Available: Near future

For years, the war on city pollution has been fought with bans on car traffic, taxes, and clean-fuel inducements. But at the European Commission's Indoortron labs in Ispra, Italy, Dr. Dimitris Kotzias may have a better solution: a paint that munches up to 90% of the atmosphere's nitrogen oxide and 30% of its nitrogen dioxide.

This is a lot more exciting than watching paint dry: The new coatings contain nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and calcium carbonate (common chalk). The titanium dioxide traps pollutants and, with a little sunlight, converts them to nitric acid. The calcium carbonate then neutralizes the acid, which the next rain washes away.

The big find: polysiloxane, the polymer used as a base material. Previous polymers were overwhelmed by the titanium dioxide, but polysiloxane is proving strangely resistant. One coat of paint should last five years.

Maryland-based Millennium Chemicals already has filed a patent and is, according to New Scientist, bringing an "ecopaint" to market. (The company says it hasn't set a date.) But Kotzias is even more excited about an indoor version that could decompose benzene—a big contributor to leukemia—from carpets and cigarette smoke. "It would be," he says, "a fantastic application."

How It Works

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