Sustainable Cities: Chicago Paves with New ‘Smog-Eating’ Cement
April 8, 2013  //  By:   //  Blog Post, Featured  //  No Comment

The city of Chicago is making a well-deserved appearance in our Sustainable Cities blog series. Chicago first rose to prominence as a sustainable city in 2000/2001 by designing and then implementing a green roof for City Hall.  The roof helps cool the notoriously hot city, and it saves a good bit of money on the utility bill as well. Today we are focusing on Chicago’s newest venture: smog-eating cement. 

This new ‘green’ cement is produced by Italian firm Italcementi, and is actually a product of a Catholic Church-motivated project. To celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity, the Vatican wanted to build a church that would stay white despite Rome’s high levels of air pollution. Italcementi came up with the solution, which is cement that contains titanium dioxide. The cement reacts with sunlight to speed up the decomposition process of air pollutants. In practice, this means that the cement is self-cleaning. But more than that, researchers found that the cement also cleans the air up to 8 feet above its surface. This could bring huge benefits to city dwellers who would otherwise be inhaling myriad pollutants everyday. Chicago plans to start out small, using the cement only on bike lanes at first. If it is a success, we might see a lot more of this cement in the future.

In the quest to mitigate climate change, it is easy to get caught up in the big international agreements such as Rio+20 and the Copenhagen Accord. These multilateral agreements, though clearly a crucial part of global sustainability efforts, are unwieldy and often give the impression that progress on the issue is slow, or that there is some sort of impasse that international community cannot surmount. It is important to remember that combating climate change happens on all levels, from the personal to the international. This includes cities, which are often able to make huge leaps and bounds in sustainability before their regional and national governments. Our Sustainable Cities series is to remind the GEG community that change is happening all around us, regardless of what is happening at the international level.

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About the Author :

Michael Denney is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is a Research Associate at the Center for Governance and Sustainability.

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