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A Concrete Solution To Pollution 276

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the cleaning-up-the-town dept.
PreacherTom writes "With concerns over global warming and pollution control reaching an all-time high, an Italian company has developed an interesting solution. It is called TX Active: a concrete that literally breaks down pollutants in the air. The effects are significant: 'In large cities with persistent pollution problems caused by car emissions, smoke from heating systems, and industrial activities, both the company and outside experts estimate that covering 15% of all visible urban surfaces (painting the walls, repaving the roads) with products containing TX Active could abate pollution by up to 50%.' Even more significant is that the cost is only 30% over that of normal concrete. Remarkable."
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A Concrete Solution To Pollution

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  • by ookabooka (731013) on Friday November 10, 2006 @07:56AM (#16792188)
    30% increase in price may not convince those that don't consider the environment that important. Maybe in some places like California or parts of Europe this will take off, but I don't see it becoming commonplace for industrialized or developing cities.
  • by nuggz (69912) on Friday November 10, 2006 @08:02AM (#16792202) Homepage
    I have an idea, perhaps we can control pollution forming toxins at the source.
    For example in cars we could promote less intial generation (perhaps even regulate fuel consumption),
    Then before it even leaves the car we run it through some type of catalyst to convert it to less toxic pollutants, or filter out small particles.

    Even better is if we had some sort of On Board Diagnostic system to monitor everything, like make sure there are no leaks between the engine and the filters.

    This seems like an expensive air purifier, though one that might help with the existing problem and be very profitable to sell.

    My biggest question is why have this in concrete? Other than the manufacturer sells concrete.

    The summary is also wrong, it isn't 30% more, they claim $120 for a 5 story building. You must have cheap paint if that's 30% more than plain concrete.
  • by Knutsi (959723) on Friday November 10, 2006 @08:10AM (#16792226)
    If this turns out not to be FUD, it sounds excellend. I bet those 30% extra could easily be subsidised by city gouvernments quite simply due to reduced environmental and health problems.

    If anything, it proves better technology is the cure to problems caused by technology (:
  • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes.xmsnet@nl> on Friday November 10, 2006 @08:17AM (#16792242)
    My biggest question is why have this in concrete? Other than the manufacturer sells concrete.

    Controlling pollution at the source is nice, but may not be enough. Emission laws for cars have been hugely successful, but there are still plenty of smog sources out there, not all of which can be cleaned up economically.
    We used to have huge forests that act as pollution sinks. If we can use our urban jungle to do the same, why not?
  • Great! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Chrisq (894406) on Friday November 10, 2006 @08:45AM (#16792350)
    Great - an excuse to pave over more unspoiled areas.
  • Re:Global Warming? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by halvin (883516) on Friday November 10, 2006 @08:46AM (#16792354) Homepage
    FTA:
    In the presence of natural or artificial light (this applies also indoors) the photocatalyzer significantly speeds up the natural oxidation processes that cause the decomposition of pollutants, transforming them into less harmful compounds such as water, nitrates, or carbon dioxide.
    So, er, no. It increases CO2.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 10, 2006 @08:50AM (#16792382)
    Given the abysmal thermal inefficiency of concrete, leading to tremendous wastes of fossil fuel for heating/aircon, it is nothing short of irresponsible to portray it as a pollution saviour.

      If you do not have the facts in your hands to be able to read critically some corporate PR, at least have the decency to not parrot it on /.

  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Friday November 10, 2006 @09:01AM (#16792472)
    That's silly. You can find a bigger price fluctuation between offers if you ask for offers in a tender system.

    In Hungary motorways suddently cost 2-3x more after 2002 than before. Some sinister people point out that there was a change of government in 2002, but I'm sure there is no connection. ;)
  • by ToddML (590924) on Friday November 10, 2006 @09:09AM (#16792524)
    I seriously doubt it. As the prices come down and solutions become more reasonable, the U.S. will jump on board rapidly. A series of solar company executives, mostly from Europe, were recently asked who the next big "solar" power would be (right now Germany leads per capita), and most of them mentioned the United States. They all said once the U.S. commits, they will ramp up extremely quickly. So I really think you're overplaying your point.
  • by Ben Hutchings (4651) on Friday November 10, 2006 @09:13AM (#16792562) Homepage
    I could be wrong, but I don't think this has any effect on greenhouse gases; the pollutants that are broken down are those that cause acid precipitation and health problems. In fact, replacing concrete will involve producing a lot of CO2.
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday November 10, 2006 @09:15AM (#16792574) Homepage Journal
    Offsets are crap.

    Anyone who sponsors the idea of using "carbon offsets" is doing nothing but transfering wealth from one entity to another. It has nothing to do with protecting the environment and should be laughed at when mentioned.
  • by ThosLives (686517) on Friday November 10, 2006 @09:20AM (#16792620) Journal

    Any suggestions? "Solutions" like "stop driving" or "use mass transit" are not acceptable to the public in most places. You can't even say "use centralized power generation and electric cars" because that has several downsides as well: limited range, vast increase in the use of heavy-metal batteries (unless those little ultracapacitor things come online any time soon), centralized generation is a single point of failure, and other side effects.

    Remember, none of the pollution "problem" is technical; we have the technology that would fix all the problems. The difficulty is in the politics, not the technology.

  • by C0deJunkie (309293) on Friday November 10, 2006 @09:24AM (#16792672) Homepage Journal
    While the parent is absolutely correct, the comment doesn't account for the fact that the EU and the Italian legislators push anything that goes toward limiting pollution with a great effort. That is, maybe the builders may receive a sort of compensation for using this kind of material, as the house owners who build photovoltaic panels are receiving since a couple of years ago.
  • by Ingolfke (515826) on Friday November 10, 2006 @09:29AM (#16792718) Journal
    I totally agree with you... those stupid fuckers who hate the environment so much that they purchase cars that don't run only on electricty, when the cost of those cars is only 30 to 50% more than normal cars... AGGGHH.... I just don't understand why those people hate trees and birds and lungs so much. They're probably rolling around in their filthy money laughing at the rest of us as we choke on the noxious gases from their Honda Civics and Ford Foci.
  • by Charcharodon (611187) on Friday November 10, 2006 @09:40AM (#16792810)
    You are quite wrong. The polution eating qualities of this material is a secondary bonus to what this material is really good for, which is to keep crud from building up on buildings. Corporations, even the greedy, mean, puppy kicking kinds like their icons to be bold and most of all clean and shinny. They also like keeping all that money they get from kicking puppies, so paying people to clean their giant icons costs lots of money even if you use illegals to do it. A 30% boost in price is a small amount to be paid for something that only needs to be cleaned every great once in a while.

    The concrete will be quite common, because of a simple fact corporations don't build roads, governments do, and they are about as hyper anal about the environment as they come, reguardless of what the media says. Lot's of money coming from the federal government has alot of strings attached to it. Cities get alot of flack over polution and loose alot of funding over it. Getting people out of their cars has been a non-starter to reduce polution, but getting the numbers to drop with a special concrete or paint is simplicity in itself, when compared to light rail and other polution fighting schemes.

    There is another large group in the US that is willing to pay quite a bit of money for this technology, and that is parents. Ask any parent with an asthmatic child if they would be willing to do something as simple as repaint their home inside and out to better the life of their suffering child and you'll most likely see them jumping in their car and hurrying off to the hardware store before you can even get an answer. Most of the polution in the US, as in greater than 50%, comes not from industry but people. It is the average person whose mind has to be changed, not the corporations. Most people are more than willing to make simple changes in their lives or part with a reasonable amount of money to do so, especially if it will have a real impact on the life of their child.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see this paint become mandatory to use at schools and public buildings with just a few years. Even if it didn't or ever get used by corporations, there are 300,000,000 in the US that live in a lot of houses. It wouldn't take very many to start making a noticeable impact on the polution.

  • Re:Global Warming? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by archen (447353) on Friday November 10, 2006 @09:46AM (#16792864)
    I think with the current scare over CO2 everyone is forgetting the fact that we're still dumping much more hazardous crap into the air. We need to reduce CO2 of course, but would you rather have much more toxic crap floating around in the atmosphere or just CO2 - and I guess that will be the big question. I'm hoping that people will realize that many of these chemicals that break down into CO2 are probably harmful to plants (contributing to acid rain) which reduces the vegetation's ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • Re:Global Warming? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sique (173459) on Friday November 10, 2006 @10:01AM (#16792988) Homepage
    ... and in the end most of those organic pollutants will become carbon dioxide anyway... not immediately as it were after hitting name brand concrete, but within days or weeks anyway. So this concrete doesn't actually change the CO2 contribution, it just moves it forward a few weeks.
  • by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday November 10, 2006 @10:04AM (#16793014)
    First of all, portland cement already absorbs CO2, so this isn't new. What TFA fails to mention is that the production of portland cement produces a heck of a lot of CO2. So in effect the building materials made from that material do indeed absorb CO2 but only a fraction that it's manufacture launched into the atmosphere. TFA doesn't mention how much CO2 does the manufacture of the miraculous compound produces.

    Second, TFA fails to mention that no material is capable of absorbing a constant rate of some compound for as long as anyone cares to measure. In the case of porland cement it does indeed absorb CO2 but only in the surface. The CO2 absorption doesn't penetrate more than a couple of cm beyond the element's surface and as time passes, the rate of absorption decreases until it doesn't absorb anything anymore. So TFA doesn't state what does it mean by 30%. Is it the total amount absorbed? Is it peak absorption rate? Is it the time window where the compound stays unsaturated? What is it? That information is vital to evaluate if it justifies the added cost.

    Third. What effect does that compound has on the concrete's mechanical properties? Does it make it more fragile? More permeable? Less resistant?

    Fourth, TFA states that it only costs 30% more. Only? How do you justify a 30% increase on building costs just because someone decided to use a useless compound due to some marketing gimmick?

    As I see it, this product is useless. It is tailored to ignorant people who are willing to spend lots of money on something just because someone decided to slap a "green" sticker on it. There are far more efficient and proven ways to absorb CO2 and other greenhouse gases than using some "green" product on concrete. For example, invest on green spaces, on passive heating/cooling systems, on energy-efficient lighting solutions, etc... Heck, instead of spending 30% of the building costs on funny concrete why not invest that money on some eco-friendly project? All those suggestions do a whole lot more for the environmnet than some snake oil product to add to the concrete mixture.
  • Re:Global Warming? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by malsdavis (542216) * on Friday November 10, 2006 @10:07AM (#16793040)
    Toxic compounds can also cause additional Cardon Dioxide release over the long term as they destroy plant-life (via acid rain and other such mechanisms) which then releases CO2 as they decompose.

    Of course this is in addition to the millions of people air pollution kills every year which tends to go unreported.
  • by Pink Tinkletini (978889) on Friday November 10, 2006 @10:32AM (#16793276) Homepage
    Builders of big objects are big companies, and they don't care, they don't have to.
    Not always. Architects as diverse Norman Foster and Bruce Fowle have built their reputations on being green, and their talent doesn't come cheap. Plenty of big companies are willing to pay a premium for the ability to say they're environmentally conscious. Greenroofs are a huge hit in Chicago for this reason. Waterless urinals are the next big thing in New York. Look at the new Hearst building or the Condé Nast headquarters for concrete examples.

    I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss "big companies" as pure evil. Sometimes, they do care, because they have to.
  • by Moraelin (679338) on Friday November 10, 2006 @11:01AM (#16793622) Journal
    It might give a builder an excuse to have a bare concrete exterior without being accused of making an ugly building. "It fights pollution! Isn't that more important than being pretty?"


    Heh. Sorry, I just can't see it happening like that. (Except maybe if their PR department says that that claim would improve the corporate image or something.)

    Most of the corporations don't really give a fuck about the environment or social responsibility or even ethics. Their _only_ legal responsibility is to make more money for the shareholder. And they'll do just that. If doing the ecologically sane, socially responsible, or ethical thing would cause 1% less profits, it's their legal _duty_ to _not_ do it.

    The industry (as a whole) has a long history of doing anything up to (and including) dumping poisons into rivers or into the atmosphere. It's been perfectly happy to cause health problems all the way to cancer and poisoning in the nearby towns (both mining and manufacturing did that), in its own workers (see the fact that they knew since the end of the 19'th century that asbestos tends to cause lung cancer), or even in its customers (see the tobacco industry.)

    The only thing that _ever_ dragged it kicking and screaming into cleaning up its act was the law. At some point society decided, "no, sorry, we're not having _that_ shit dumped into our town's river and ground water. Put a filter on it or we'll make it even more expensive to ignore us." And even then invariably the industry has put up quite a fight, including astroturfing, lobbying, PR lies campaigns, threatening to fire everyone and move somewhere else, etc.

    Sadly I just don't see it working any differently this time. Now you're asking them to pay extra (in most cases having an ugly building _is_ paying extra, in an indirect way: less rent, lost customers, public image, whatever) not just to clean their own act, but basically to clean everyone else's pollution too. Expect a heartfelt laugh in the face if you tried convincing someone to volunteer to do that. Either the law forces them to, or it just won't happen.
  • by wealthychef (584778) on Friday November 10, 2006 @11:56AM (#16794268)
    Let's keep in mind that in building anything, raw materials are not the highest cost. In fact, labor-related costs are #1, probably. As another poster pointed out, this only has to be used on the exterior, so it's only half or less of the total concrete needed, perhaps, plus concrete may not be the biggest materials cost of building a building, plus materials are not even half the cost of construction, so I'm willing to bet if you use this concrete it increases the cost of an office building by maybe 5% max, if that. I'm definitely guesstimating here, but it's not what it sounds like, keep that in mind. I think it would be reasonable to mandate this stuff if it's good as it costs. Plus, it will probably get cheaper over time, as competition sets in due to more stringent standards.
  • by drsquare (530038) on Friday November 10, 2006 @12:08PM (#16794446)
    Most of the corporations don't really give a fuck about the environment or social responsibility or even ethics. Their _only_ legal responsibility is to make more money for the shareholder.


    Why do companies have a responsibility to absorb pollution made by other people?

    You tirade might have carried some weight if you'd committed yourself to rebuilding your house/garden with this concrete.
  • by PinkPanther (42194) on Friday November 10, 2006 @12:22PM (#16794608)
    It's never black and white.
    I'd say that sentence is 100% contradictory...you are saying that it is black and white about being black and white?
  • by Gotta ask yourself.. (977664) on Friday November 10, 2006 @12:35PM (#16794762)
    I highly doubt any city is going to pay 30% more though. The cities and counties out here bid to the cheapest contractor and the cheapest contractor is probably going to get the cheapest concrete.

    How much a solution is going to cost versus another one isn't (or shouldn't be) calculated only on the basis of the concrete's cost, but also on the other costs or savings that a certain solution is going to induce.

    In the case of this special concrete, the city would probably see a net saving by not having to spend money to counter pollution in other ways and, since there would be a net decrease of health expenses as well, countries where health services are paid by the state (with people's taxes) would greatly benefit too. Add to that that the less money you spend for health issues, the more you have left to spend for other things, the more you drive the economy.

  • by majutsu (1018766) on Friday November 10, 2006 @12:43PM (#16794854)
    Their _only_ legal responsibility is to make more money for the shareholder. And they'll do just that. If doing the ecologically sane, socially responsible, or ethical thing would cause 1% less profits, it's their legal _duty_ to _not_ do it.
    I hate it when people write this bullshit. They also have to follow federal/state/local laws applicable to their area. And doing the socially responsible thing may pay off in bigger profits. Many companies seem to agree with their donations to charities, etcetera. Absolute principles like the one quoted suck absolutely.
  • by Gotta ask yourself.. (977664) on Friday November 10, 2006 @07:58PM (#16800546)
    Of course I was implying that the government should incentive the usage of this kind of concrete because, in the end, it will have a benefit from it.
  • by adrianmonk (890071) on Friday November 10, 2006 @10:52PM (#16801998)
    I highly doubt any city is going to pay 30% more though. The cities and counties out here bid to the cheapest contractor and the cheapest contractor is probably going to get the cheapest concrete.

    Is it as simple as that? If it is, when the city asks me to bid to build 10 miles of road, I'll submit a bid to build only 5 miles of road instead. I'll come in at half the price of everyone else and be awarded the contract every time.

    I guess the reason that wouldn't work is that there are certain requirements that must be met for your bid to be accepted. If this special concrete is a requirement, everyone who submits a bid will have to build the road will have to bid based on using that type of concrete. So the bidding process isn't really relevant. What's relevant is whether the city (or county or whatever authority is building the road) will be willing to make it a requirement when they know it means the bids will come in higher.

    For what it's worth, I would guess the cost of the concrete only makes up something like 25% of the cost of building a road. You have to have a bunch of machinery to pour the concrete, people to run it, not to mention stuff like surveying, lots of site preparation (moving earth and grading things), drainage, signs, traffic signals, stripes and reflectors, and so on. If concrete makes up 25% of the cost of building the road, then that 30% premium on special concrete becomes only a 7.5% premium on the cost of the whole job, which might be easier to swallow.

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