There's a man here who wants to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Cement. As head of research and development for Italcementi, Enrico Borgarello knows cement isn't considered the most high-tech--or environmentally friendly--of products. But under his direction, the Bergamo-based Italian company has developed a substance that could turn an ordinary building into a weapon against air pollution.
It's called TX Active, and it's an additive for cement that literally eats surrounding smog. "When light shines on TX, the material becomes active and neutralizes surrounding pollutants like nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide," says Borgarello. According to tests conducted by Italcementi, which spent more than a decade and $10 million developing the product, TX can reduce local air pollutants from 20% to 70%, depending on sunlight levels and wind. (It also adds as much as 20% to the cost of the cement.) Cover 15% of the exposed surfaces of a city like Milan, Borgarello estimates, and you could cut pollution in half. And as a bonus, TX helps buildings stay whiter than white by resisting the pollutants that scar and stain cement over time. It's a benefit that's visible in the first structure to use TX cement, the 2003 Dives in Misericordia church in Rome by the architect Richard Meier, who is famous for his white buildings and who likes to see them stay that way.
More study will be needed to determine just how effective TX Active is over the long term. So-called catalytic agents can lose their power over time. But Italcementi is already marketing it in the U.S. and Europe.The biggest potential, however, could be in rapidly growing countries like India and China. With annual cement demand expected to exceed 1 billion tons in China alone by 2008, building materials will have an enormous effect on changing urban environments. "We want to show that cement can contribute to the reduction of pollution," says Borgarello. "We can deal with problems that every city faces." As he said--there's a great future in cement.