An issue of Time magazine in 2008 heralded some of the most significant inventions of recent years, and less recent years as well. They narrowed their choices down to a magical 49. Not 50, not 100. And at number 37 was smog-eating cement. Trying to put this in any context is difficult insofar as inventions and discoveries go. For instance, number 38 on the list was Baseball Instant Replay. And at number 22 was the Shadowless Skyscraper, whatever that is. Time described smog-eating cement this way: “Take ordinary cement. Mix in an agent called a photo-catalyzer (titanium dioxide, if you really want to know), which speeds up the natural process that breaks down smog into its component parts. Now start paving things with the stuff. That’s what they’re doing in Segrate, an Italian town near Milan. The smog-eating cement is called TX Active, and the Italian firm Italcementi spent 10 years developing it. Now there’s a busy street in Segrate that’s covered with it, and Italcementi claims it has reduced nitric oxides in the area by as much as 60 percent. Bonus, buildings made with TX Active stay cleaner too.” However, there is a subsidiary called Essroc that dispenses this product in America.
“The product itself and its technology were developed by our parent company, the Italcementi Group,” says Essroc Marketing Manager (East) Christopher Roumie. “Essroc Cement is the North American subsidiary of the Italcementi Group. Essroc will be celebrating 150 years in 2016. Our roots date all the way back to the very first cement company here in the Lehigh Valley.
“Working in conjunction with an American architect, Richard Meier, [Italcementi] developed a product that would keep itself clean for the life of the structure,” Roumie explained. “They found out, sort of by accident, that this product also had pollution reducing capabilities as well. The product on which it was first utilized was the Jubilee Church in Rome, designed by Meier, who is noted for his very bright white structures and wants them to stay that way. Unfortunately, this church happened to be in one of the dirtiest parts of the city. Through the use of this technology the material stays cleaner longer with reduced cleaning frequency.”
Basically, the product uses ultra-violet light, which activates the catalyst in the product to clean itself. Remember high school biology and learning about photosynthesis in trees? It uses the sunlight in trees or plants or grass in order to create food for itself. In a similar vein, what happens is that the natural UV light outside triggers a reaction and speeds up an already existing reaction with this catalyst, which is added to the product so it can clean itself.
“At the end of the day it can really be used anywhere cement is used,” Roumie says. “This is simply regular cement with an aspect added to it. You can use it in a roadway, you can use it in concrete pavers and you can use it in an architectural pre-cast element. Certainly, it is one of those things that in order to be effective you wouldn’t necessarily put in a rural area if you were looking for smog-eating capabilities. That’s not to say you couldn’t, but you’d get a bigger bang for your buck with its self-cleaning and de-polluting characteristics in an urban environment.”
Smog, according to SolarPowerNotes.com, is defined as “when the smoke present in the atmosphere after emitting from different sources is combined with the fog present in the air, a mixture formed that is referred to as smog.” Other types of pollutants include what are called Green House Effects, Accidental Air Pollution, Industrial Air Pollution and Transportation-Related Air Pollutants.
“None of the research that I’ve seen would indicate that there is any type of smog this concrete cannot handle,” Roumie says. “Smog ingestion does not shorten or extend the life of the concrete. Regular concrete — everyday ordinary Portland cement concrete — can actually clean itself. What ends up happening is that particulate matter attaches itself to the surface faster than it can clean itself. What we have done is add a catalyst, which speeds up this natural reaction. Theoretically, the life of the structure, whether 30 or 50 or 500 years, will always be intact.”
Motherboard, a website dedicated to chronicling how the present affects the future, writes that “Granted, it’s more expensive than regular concrete, but still cheaper than an alternative option: protective water-repellent, silicone coatings for buildings, which are aimed at protecting exteriors from getting mucked up by pollution. While that was the initial goal of the smog-gobbling concrete, the environmental aspect is a great side benefit.” And they wonder why the process hasn’t taken off worldwide yet.
“Demand has been a little bit slower but is picking up some steam,” says Roumie. “We just completed a project with SUNY Albany for a new business school that was opened late last year. There is a project currently under construction; the panels have been created and it is just being erected at the University of Miami – the Frost School of Music. And we are working on a couple other projects here and there. It isn’t something that is completely widespread but lately we have seen some greater interest.”
Nor is the company bound by any geographic restrictions. “Technically,” Roumie reminds us, “we have the patent here in the United States so if somebody in California is interested, we could ship it to them. Anything internationally would be referred to our parent company, Italcementi, but anything in the United States is something we would handle.