“We sounded too good to be true until NASA said: ‘This is real.’”
That’s how Glen Finkel, CEO of PURETi, describes their product, a coating that can be applied to any surface and create a chemical reaction that cleans the air. It really does sound like science fiction—but it’s the real deal. The coating, which lasts for years, has the ability to break down the organic matter in pollution and keep surfaces from accumulating dirt while purifying the air.
All it takes is light. The PURETi coating is filled with a mineral called titanium dioxide. When ultraviolet light and titanium dioxide interact, the mineral activates oxygen and humidity in the air and, as Finkel says, “turns them into scrubbing bubbles.” Organic material floating around, like as greenhouse gas pollutants such as Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)—which is the main bad guy in smog—get broken down and decomposed into the less harmful chemical nitrate.
What that means is that any surface covered with the coating, which is 98 percent water and can cover about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet with just about one gallon, stays squeaky clean while removing harmful pollutants from the air around it. According to Finkel, every four square meters of the coating has the air-cleaning equivalent of removing one car from the road.
And while ultraviolet light is typically found in blacklight bulbs that light up posters, it’s also present in sunlight and fluorescent tube bulbs. The light coming through a glass window, Finkel says, is enough of a catalyst to create a reaction that cleans the air. It’s so effective that they’ve created a glass cleaning product that is now being used by Fulton County public schools and Apple has hired the company to clean the windows in all of its stores on the West Coast. They’re also working with Iowa State University to study the product’s use on the walls of animal barns to reduce odors. And they’ve partnered with Cornell University to coat the windows of greenhouses to see how it improves plant growth in a cleaner air environment.
In the 90s, NASA considered PURETi for use on the International Space Station and later selected it to help fight mold during cleanup efforts after Hurricane Katrina. Recently, PURETi has found its way onto building facades in a partnership with Spanish tile maker Neolith, which coats their tiles with the air cleaner during the manufacturing process. Right now the tiles are going up on the new home of the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco and two buildings in New York City are being built with the PURETi/Neolith tiles at 570 Broome Street and 200 Amsterdam Avenue.
“The benefit is that it will preserve the tile’s appearance it will stay cleaner longer. [Building owners will] save on cleaning and water usage and chemical uses while preserving appearance,” he says. But the biggest benefit will be to residents that live in nearby. By cleaning the air the treated surfaces will “turn building into forests.”
The company is also working closely with the European Research Council to test just how much NOx it can remove from the atmosphere in pollution-dense cities. They’ll be spraying buildings and roads with the coating in Bologna, Italy, and measuring the NOx reduction. Part of the EU’s program called Improving the Smart Control of Air Pollution in Europe (iSCAPE), which aims to do what its name suggests: advance the control air quality and carbon emissions. In the lab, Finkel says, PURETi can remove 70 to 80 percent of the NOx in the air. However, thanks to wind, no one is expecting that outcome in the real world. “We were told that success (a more then 15 percent reduction in NOx levels in our trials) would lead to a mandate calling for the application of PURETi to the urban canyons of all EU cities with high NOx levels, but we believe the more likely outcome will be an initial specification or recommendation,” he adds.
Either way, a 15 percent reduction in pollution is nothing to sneeze at. If it works, it could spell a new era in the way we think about greening cities. After all, Finkel says, the goal of PURETi is to go beyond reduce, reuse, and recycle to add a fourth R: Reverse.