A UK Master’s student has discovered a way in which tall buildings can convert urban pollution into biofuel.

Chang-Yeob Lee of the Royal College of Art in London has used the city’s BT Tower to demonstrate how the exterior structure of a skyscraper could feature an eco-catalytic converter which would capture the carbon emitted in the form of petrol fumes and convert it into natural gas using water and sunlight.

“Pollution could be another economy,” explained Lee in a video detailing the concept.

He said the technology shows how a “new hybridized infrastructure can gather pollutants: feed, store it, digest and harvest to diluted minerals and biofuels, celebrating clean air process on the ground level.”

The technology, dubbed Syth[e]tech[e]cology, has been likened to a spider web that weaves around the building's exterior. It then uses an operation similar to a vacuum cleaner to “suck up” air pollution, including dust and dirt particles and carbon emissions.

Synthetechecology Chang Yeob Lee

Pollution Harvesting Structure

The technology also has the opportunity to be applied to many other vertical frameworks, including abandoned skyscrapers.

Lee’s concept showcased the BT Tower repurposed from its current use as a telecommunications hub and turned into an eco-skyscraper. He chose the building due to its prominent 191-metre height and its location in one of Britain’s worst areas for air pollution due to its high traffic.

Lee’s research also stated that London has the highest percentage of hospital admission for respitary illnesses in Europe and he recommended Synth[e]tech[e]cology as a means of ensuring cleaner air in highly polluted urban areas.

Synthetechecology Chang Yeob Lee

Pollution Harvesting Structure

“It will control a distributed series fo protoyped ecologies which can compose self-regulated airscape with an aim of enhancing the wider air quality,” he said.

While the exterior of the tower would work as a pollution converter, the skyscraper's interior would feature a research facility that could monitor air movement and the energy efficieny of the building.

When submitting his architectural concept for a diploma assignment, Lee quoted architect Buckminister Fuller who said "pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value."

Syth[e]tech[e]cology by Chang Yeob Lee

Syth[e]tech[e]cology by Chang Yeob Lee

While Lee has worked in South Korea and Australia, he is now based in London and is continuing his exploration of future narrative design. His Synth[e]tech[e]cology concept earned him a Sheppard Robson Student Prize award this year.

Lee’s ambitious concept does not stand alone, with many other designers exploring the opportunity of using buildings to harvest energy.

In Germany earlier this year, Splitterwerk Architects and engineering firm Arup unveiled an algae-powered tower with a "bio-adaptive facade" that utilises the photosythesis process to harvest energy. Algae has also been recognized recently as a great material opportunity in generating biofuel.

Algae Covered Building: Germany

Algae Covered Building: Germany

Also earlier this year, NextFuels announced it had a commercial solution to convert agricultural residue into biofuel with a strategy that the company said could raise the value of plantation real estate by 30 per cent or more.

  • Amazing article !!

    Buckminister Fuller’s words; “pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting” … are the key to the future of sustainable cities.

    It is very important to reduce pollution but as it might be impossible to completely eliminate it, the best we can do is to convert it in something useful.