In 2011, Alcoa officially unveiled a building panel that could “eat” pollution out of the air. Not only that, but the panel, using the chemical reaction of titanium dioxide and sunlight, could also clean itself. The original panels were unremarkable, modest looking pieces of aluminum, but the use of silver titanium dioxide pigment they were painted with triggered a burst of innovation. Now, less than two years since Alcoa introduced the technology, the science of buildings that literally digest pollution is on the verge of entering mainstream architecture.
Buildings around the world have begun implementing the technology, with Mexico City’s Torre de Especialidades (pictured below) being the most recent — and most striking. The building, a hospital, utilizes a new titanium dioxide tile called proSolve37e, developed by the German company Elegant Embellishments. Its mesh-like façade looks like a white, futuristic honeycomb and improves upon Alcoa’s original design by greatly increasing the surface area of the titanium dioxide, allowing a higher amount of the pollutant nitrogen oxide to be broken down.