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This article about a new project that builds towers that can turn smog into diamonds makes some pretty incredible claims. It claims that:

  1. Towers intended to turn carbon in the air into diamonds have been built in China.
  2. "The towers suck up polluted air, and clean it ... these areas are 70-75% cleaner than the rest of the city." I don't know how they measure cleanliness, but is there any evidence for these numbers and are they realistic?
  3. The towers are able to produce diamonds using only smog.
  4. The diamonds produced by these towers are suitable for use in jewelry. A photographic example is included in the article.

It also implies that:

  1. This is an efficient and innovative method of cleaning the air. Innovative meaning that this has not been done before.

Are these claims true and/or plausible?

17

It's possible, but not so incredible.

The article writer loves to paint a picture of towers which clean the air and by a magical process, produce diamonds.

It is real and possible, but less glamorous.

The towers suck in air and filter it. They trap pollution in filters. Normal, conventional filters. A rate of 70% cleaner is definitely possible.

Eventually the filters are taken out, and the collected soot is converted to diamonds. This is a well known process. Diamonds are indeed grown, it is called Chemical Vapour Deposition. The process requires carbon, and this artist uses the carbon from the filters. Similarly you can have ashes of a cremated loved one converted to a diamond.

Then the diamond is sold to people who feel that air pollution is a problem and they are proud to be part of the solution. Their money pays for the towers and the process.

What the artist created is not a magical tower, cleaning the air and pooping out diamonds. He has linked existing technology in such a way that he gets people to pay for cleaner air. An engineer would have told you how many towers you needed and how much they'd cost, and stopped there.

The real solution is cleaner cars and industry. This tower is not a solution in the sense that it can make a meaningful dent in a megacity's smog; The artist is selling awareness.

References: The artists page: https://www.studioroosegaarde.net/project/smog-free-project/info/

His kickstarter project to build towers: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1777606920/the-smog-free-tower/description

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Could you reference the statements in your answer? I think it would be a good one if there were sources for these statements. – JasonR Jul 22 '16 at 19:55
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    It may not be THE solution, but does removing carbon and other harmful things from the air really do nothing like you claim? – Ryan Jul 22 '16 at 21:38
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    FWIW, the Russians have perfected the process of producing large, jewellry grade diamonds with very low imperfections and have been trying to break into the diamond market for years but the diamond mining companies have successfully campaigned against them. These days, if your diamond does not have a laser etched serial number that is linked to a database it's not worth much. Indeed, high level of purity is one of the signs that the diamond is synthetic - and thus cheap. Last time I bought a diamond ring for my wife every shop I went to showed me the serial number under a microscope. – slebetman Jul 25 '16 at 7:53
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    @slebetman Diamonds are artifically made expensive by the companies that sell them. Nowadays you are paying more for the "brand" of the diamond than for the stone per se. – T. Sar Jul 27 '16 at 11:41
  • If you power such a tower using electricity from a coal plant, then how does the amount of pollution extracted by the tower relate to the amount created by running the tower? Just curious. – Saibot Jul 27 '16 at 13:00
8

No.

Jewelry is made from compressed smog particles, but the compressed smog particles are not diamonds.

See World's largest air purifier takes on China's smog

The inspiration came from how diamonds are made in nature by compressed carbon. The tower collects compressed smog particles, which are partially made of carbon. They're put under high pressure for 30 minutes, sealed within a resin cube, and used in rings and cufflinks.

See also 'Smog vacuum cleaner' turns heads, spits out gemstones in Rotterdam:

The material within each resin cube, equivalent to the cleaning of 1,000 cubic meters of pollution-scrubbed air, is indeed honest-to-goodness smog dust that’s been harvested from the Smog Free Tower's filters and compressed. In fact, if Roosegaarde and co. were to keep compressing and compressing, the carbon dust would yield a diamond — a bone fide smog diamond.

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