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Air-purifying billboard does the work of 1,200 trees


May 6, 2014

UTEC's billboard filters 100,000 cubic meters of air every day, benefiting residents in a 5-block radius (Credit: UTEC)

UTEC's billboard filters 100,000 cubic meters of air every day, benefiting residents in a 5-block radius (Credit: UTEC)

Billboards could do more than just advertise, if scientists at the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Peru have their way. While UTEC's earlier billboard produced drinkable water, its latest creation scrubs the air free of pollutants. According to the team, a single billboard can do the work of 1,200 trees, purifying 100,000 cubic meters (3.5 million cubic feet) of air daily in crowded cities.

The University has installed its first air-purifying billboard near a construction zone in Lima, a city that's famous for having the worst air quality in all of South America. The billboard works by combining polluted air with water, using basic thermodynamic principles to actively dissolve the pollutants (such as bacteria, dust and germs) in water to release fresh air.

The scientists claim that their billboard filtered around 500,000 cubic meters of air within one week in March, scrubbing it free of 99 percent of its airborne bacteria. The effects of the billboard can be experienced, the team says, within a 5-block radius, benefiting both construction workers and the area's residents. The extracted pollutants are held for analysis, presumably with a view to creating more effective billboards in the future.

The purifying process is continuous, uses 100 percent recyclable water and consumes little energy, the team says – roughly 2.5 kW (2,500 watts) per hour. Ad agency FCB Mayo is helping the University promote the billboard.

"We seek to demonstrate that engineering is behind it all," says Jessica Rúas, Director of Promotion at UTEC. "And what better way to also show that than through advertising that changes the world, helps the community and cares for the environment."

Check out a video of UTEC's air-purifying billboard below.

Source: UTEC via Time

About the Author
Lakshmi Sandhana When Lakshmi first encountered pig's wings in a petri dish, she realized that writing about scientists and imagineers was the perfect way to live in an expanding mind bubble. Articles for Wired, BBC Online, New Scientist, The Economist and Fast Company soon followed. She's currently pursuing her dream of traveling from country to country to not only ferret out cool stories but also indulge outrageously in local street foods. When not working, you'll find her either buried nose deep in a fantasy novel or trying her hand at improvisational comedy. All articles by Lakshmi Sandhana

Seriously, I see them making their way to China.


I think if we could power it with solar panel or wind turbines, this billboard could be one of the cleanest and greenest thing on earth

Nathan Pham

China: "Yes, very good. We'll take them." UTEC: "How many exactly?" China: "All of them." UTEC: "You mean..." China: "Yes, every single one. We'll pay double if we have to."

Joel Detrow

I'd like to see them install one of these in a large Chinese city, but I'll bet they'd have to clean the sludge filters fairly often.


Sell the sludge to algae fuel farms. Make it so that there is an economically viable income off it and it will be everywhere in the world overnight.

Ben O'Brien

This would be the ruin of the world if it actually works as advertised and if it ends up being implemented on a grand scale.

Human nature being what it is, people would take this as a free pass to lay waste to whatever forrested areas remain since this one billboard replaces 1200 trees.

Wtih that said, I seriously doubt that this works as promised. It seems too good to be true, much like the eve elusive perpetual motion machine.


China needs to have this ASAP !!!

Chris Marshalk

I think electrostatic filters would use less energy but they might need more maintenance.

@ Joel Detrow That would involve someone with power in the PRC caring.


Don't worry. I'm sure Chinese hackers are now findng their way into UTEC Peru's servers to steal the designs. China will soon be flooding the market with their "own" air purifying billboards. Xie xie!


to layman like me the bill board sure is very very misleading 'O2' ..... seriously thought something like artificial photosynthesis. ends up to be a giant dust remover or vacuum cleaner for air

Kong Ben

These billboards pose no threats to trees because the figure of 1,200 trees refers only to pollutant removal, not oxygen generation.

And the energy figures were wrong - they should have been in kWh. Maybe a power figure of 2.5kW was meant.


In actual fact the billboard does the work of 0 trees. 2.5 kW is a huge amount of power for basically a dust filter that doesn't remove CO or CO2 but actually produces more CO2. This is a feel-good waste of space, time and energy.

Roy Murray

I too am concerned that this does not seem to remove CO2, and in fact would make it necessary to produce more to power it. In addition, by removing the most visible symptoms of burning dirty coal, it would encourage/enable people to burn more. I see this as a net loss. Now if it could scrub the CO2 from the air in addition to the other pollutants, that might make it net 0. I have been reading a bit lately about companies finding uses for captured CO2, like making limestone. If this could capture CO2 and convert all the waste products to useable materials, that would be great.


What would you rather have - 1200 new trees planted throughout the city, or a billboard that sucks up massive amounts of electricity and water? Would probably be far, far cheaper too.

Know what they say, when something sounds too good to be true? ...

Passing air through a water filter not only traps particulates in the air. It also causes a lot of evaporation. The previous billboard these bozos came up with produced 95 liters of fresh water a day. Wanna bet this one uses at least an order of magnitude more water than that?

In addition, an evaporation system like this - especially when fed with recycled water - is a prime breeding ground for bacteria. Outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease are often caused by air conditioning cooling towers, for example (which is essentially what this is - they just built a giant swamp cooler).


OK, lets all go plant 1200 trees in Lima . . . . .

FFS . . . . . if it works and it helps ITS A GOOD THING

Aloysius Bear

There's that mistake again! "roughly 2.5 kW (2,500 watts) per hour" "Per hour" doesn't belong there. That's like saying my car produces 300 horsepower per hour. Power is a constant thing, if you want to talk about energy consumption then hours come into it. This mistake is as common as people spelling "lose" as "loose".


UTEC should be ashamed to be supposedly an institute of higher learning, while promoting anti-science with shameless marketing. Does anyone remember the cold fusion hoax?

I object to the suggestion that this billboard can produce O2 like a tree does. IT CANT

If UTEC were more serious about cleaning air and less about marketing then the billboard would have been constructed to face the prevailing wind, from the ocean. ITS NOT. Check Google street view. It is facing the motorway to maximize the number of ignorant fodder. If UTEC does its job to produce critical thinking engineers then their very graduates would object to this hoax.


Would it be possible to apply the technology integrated in the billboard to other construction materials?... Specifically to building facade materials such as glass or aluminum cladding?...

Vince Louis Milan
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