All the Small Things:
Pitting Paint Against Air Pollutants
By: Ablaza, Lopez, Ng, Tan, Tejada, Teng, and Zarza (SCI 10 M)
The momentous events that transpired along EDSA will always be overshadowed by the one word that defines EDSA in the minds of most Filipino citizens: traffic. The words EDSA and traffic seem to be inseparable in traffic updates, news reports, and of course, late excuses. Any citizen of Metro Manila would agree that EDSA traffic is headache-inducing with the seemingly unending influx of cars, impatient drivers honking their horns, and numerous traffic violators. However, our discomfort while traveling through EDSA is just one of the many negative effects of EDSA traffic. The roughly 2 million vehicles that pass through EDSA every day account for much of the pollution that is plaguing the air we breathe. Statistics show that there are nearly 5000 deaths due to air pollution each year (Zafra, 2012), and if the trend continues to persist, we can expect worse figures in the coming years.
To address this problem, one of the recent initiatives presented an unorthodox answer to the growing pollution problem. For the Boysen KNOxOUT Project: EDSA (Everyone Deserves Safe Air) initiative, one way to help clean the air is through art, street art to be exact. The term “street art” often has a negative connotation because it is associated with graffiti and vandalism or vibrant artworks spray-painted across public property. However, for this project, eleven artists were commissioned to make a total of 8,000 square meters of street art in 8 different locations using a special kind of paint called Boysen KNOxOUT (Zafra, 2012). The artists include Asuncion Imperial, Damien Anne, Tapio Snellman, Erika Tan, Jose Tence Ruiz, and artists from the TBWA Art Department.
The core of this initiative is the Boysen KNOxOUT paint and the special technology behind it.
How the paint works
According to the official webpage of Boysen KNOxOUT, the paint contains ultrafine titanium dioxide (TiO2), which is a kind of photocatalytic nanotechnology developed by Cristal Global under its CristalActiv brand. The TiO2 nanoparticles in the paint take in energy from sunlight and convert water vapor into hydroxyl and peroxyl radicals. The free radicals then break down deadly air pollutants that come into contact with them, particularly nitrogen oxides (NOx) that can be found in motor vehicle emissions. NOx emissions are converted to nitric acid, which is then neutralized by alkaline calcium carbonate particles that are also present in the paint. After the whole process, the NOx gases will have transformed into small quantities of calcium nitrate, and even smaller amounts of carbon dioxide and water. It can be said that the paint is self-cleaning since the calcium nitrate is water-soluble, making it easily removable from the film. To add to the advantage of this technology, Boysen claims that the TiO2 nanoparticles do not easily diminish after going through the reactive processes. On the product page, it is claimed that as long as there is enough light, air, and moisture, the TiO2 nanoparticles can continuously act as catalysts for the generation of free radicals.
Dry run in Metro Manila
The trial usage of Boysen KNOxOUT conducted in Metro Manila is considered the largest outdoor pollution-ridding paint trial in the entire world. Even until now, it remains in the position of being the biggest scale experiment conducted using paint containing titanium dioxide nanoparticles. The trial was done at the Guadalupe MRT station, a place chosen due to the immense vehicular traffic and exposure to sunlight and humidity experienced in the area.
Cristal Global, the company that produces the titanium dioxide nanoparticles found in the KNOxOUT paint, was the mastermind behind the trial in the said station. In this experiment, 4,100 square meters of wall were painted using the KNOxOUT paint. The paint used was reported to have removed 26 grams of nitrogen oxides in every 100 square meters of painted surface. In addition to that, based on data from the trial, Cristal Global predicts that for every painted square meter of wall, 80 grams of nitrogen oxides can be removed per year.
This project of cleansing the air was deemed very successful. According to Johnson Ongking, the vice president of Pacific Paint (Boysen) Philippines, Inc., “. . . the focus of eco-friendly paints has been to minimize paint’s negative effect on human health and the environment by limiting the levels of volatile organic compounds and prohibiting the use of hazardous chemicals, but now . . . we actually have an eco-active technology that’s constantly working to clean the air” (as cited in Cabatit-Alegre, 2008). The project has since expanded from one train station to the stretch of EDSA.
Aside from all of these, it was stated that the said paint has a few more benefits to our environment and everyday life. First, this paint can now serve as a great and innovative way to counter air pollution. With its aesthetic appeal, it allows people to have a share in fighting air pollution with the little things they do, like painting surfaces using the KNOxOUT paint. All in all, the project creates a brand new functionality of paint aside from its existing aesthetic functions.
Putting the paint into perspective
Most of what has already been said about Boysen KNOxOUT puts the product under a positive light, however, the entirety of the project must be taken with a grain of salt. Despite seemingly definite claims that have been made by the developers of the paint regarding its benefits to the environment, much work still needs to be done in order to properly measure and ascertain the true value of the paint.
Among the scientists and experts who have concerned themselves with this application of TiO2 nanoparticles is Sixto Malato, who is an expert in photochemistry based in Spain’s Plataforma Solar de Almeria. According to Malato, the long-term durability of the technology still needs further testing since the photocatalytic particles used in the paint do deteriorate easily, contrary to what is stated in KNOxOUT’s official product page (as cited in Burton, 2012). As of now, it cannot be guaranteed if the technology can last five to ten years, which is the usual interval between painting and repainting surfaces.
Aside from questions of durability, there is also concern over how the products of NOx degradation are pollutants themselves, particularly the amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrates produced. It is widely known that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but alongside that, the nitrates produced can pollute waterways after being washed out, creating the possibility of drinking water becoming contaminated (Burton, 2012). Malato is also concerned with TiO2 reaching rivers after being washed out. He states that the activation of the TiO2 nanoparticles by sunlight in rivers can harm aquatic organisms (as cited in Burton, 2012).
All of these contentions do not cancel out the value of KNOxOUT paint altogether though; rather, they call for further studying and testing so that we may have a clearer sense of the durability and possible environmental hazards of the technology. Considering all that has been said, it seems to soon to make too many conclusive statements about the benefits of the paint. As Felix Lopez, a professor of research in Spanish National Research Council, aptly puts it, “the real solution, of course, is not to pollute in the first place” (as cited in Burton, 2012).
It is clear that air pollution is becoming more and more rampant and with the gradually increasing population of the country, thus, it should be everyone’s concern to keep the environment clean, especially for the younger generations. A creative way that has been proposed to get rid of air pollution, or at least lessen it, is by painting surfaces using paint that contains TiO2, such as Boysen KNOxOUT. Further development of the nanotechnology used for Boysen KNOxOUT would open up a whole new frontier in the functionality of paint.
The KNOxOUT project in EDSA, for example, combines an innovative application of nanotechnology with amazing art. In addition to that, using KNOxOUT to paint over the plain grey concrete walls of EDSA can inspire more Filipinos to not only be more creative, but also to be more concerned about the current pollution caused by motor vehicles. The paint could also serve as a springboard for more innovative ideas for future projects aimed to fight pollution.
Although the KNOxOUT paint has great potential, it still isn’t the most efficient way of cleaning the air as of now. More work needs to be done. What’s more important now is for us to do our part to prevent the air from becoming more polluted in the first place. Prevention is always an effective way to avoid something, especially in the case of air pollution.
Boysen KNOxOUT air cleaning paint: How it works. (2014). Retrieved January 18, 2014, from http://www.knoxoutpaints.com/howitworks.do
Burton, A. (2012). Titanium dioxide photocleans polluted air. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(6). Retrieved January 17, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3385448/pdf/ehp.120-a229.pdf
Cabatit-Alegre, J. (2008, November 29). Painting the town eco-friendly. The Philippine Star. Retrieved January 17, 2014, from http://www.philstar.com/modern-living/419200/painting-town-eco-friendly
Zafra, J. (2012). Boysen KNOxOUT project: EDSA: Purifying the air with art. Retrieved January 17, 2014, from http://www.knoxoutpaints.com/thingstoknow.do?id=12651