China’s Desperate Smog Fix: Pumping the Skies With Liquid Nitrogen

Industrial coolant could be a quick fix for pollution problems — or it could just be one more nasty chemical hanging in the air

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© Aly Song / Reuters

A woman wearing a mask walks on a bridge during a hazy day in downtown Shanghai on Dec. 5, 2013

Scientists in China say that pumping extremely cold nitrogen into Beijing’s polluted skies might help combat the excessive smog that blankets the capital during the winter months, reports the South China Morning Post.

Government-backed researchers at the Beijing Weather Modification Office claim that by pumping liquid nitrogen into the air, crystals would form on particles of dust that would then fall back to earth.

“Our experiments showed that in an environment with temperatures below freezing point, liquid nitrogen outperformed all other agents, but in summer or autumn its effect was less obvious,” He Hui, a researcher working on the project, told the Post.

However, critics of the scheme claim that the industrial coolant is both cumbersome and dangerous when handled improperly. Even minute amounts on the skin can cause serious burns, make it potentially difficult to deploy.