Infographic of the Day: Power Plant Will Blow Huge Smoke Rings From Chimney

A brilliant art installation seeks to raise awareness about carbon emissions.

Infographic of the Day: Power Plant Will Blow Huge Smoke Rings From Chimney

Perhaps one of the most bedeviling things in the fight against carbon dioxide pollution is the fact that the gas is odorless and invisible. Everyday, we belch millions of tons of it into the air, but it doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything bad because we can’t see any evidence of it. You can bet that if carbon dioxide were a sickly greenish hue, everyone in the world would be hustling to act.



Is it possible to make carbon pollution more visible — and to make us more aware of what we do everyday? That’s exactly what’s being attempted in Big Vortex, a new art project by Realities United, a German art outfit. The installation converts the smoke being emitted by a power plant into a simple smoke ring, measuring about 100 feet in diameter and 3 feet tall. “These rings serve as a gentle reminder of the impact of consumption and a measuring stick that will allow the common Copenhagener to grasp the CO2 emission in straightforward way,” says Jan Elder, one of the principals at Realities United. “It turns the smokestack, traditionally the symbol of the industrial era, into a communicator for the future.”


There are even plans to project pie charts onto the smoke using laser projections; these would show data about fossil-fuel targets.


The piece will be installed in a combination ski slope and power plant being build by the Bjarke Ingels Group in Copenhagen. For all its imaginative flair, the piece actually works in a fairly simple way. The smoke being emitted from the smokestack is temporary trapped in a chamber at the top by a very secure lid. Every 45 seconds, the lid is opened, and a piston on the side of the chamber pumps the smoke out. Thanks to the Bernoulli effect, a smoke ring is created. (This entire process is totally analogous to blowing a smoke ring with our mouth: You close your lips, open them, then gently push a bit of smoke out using your tongue.)

Of course, one of the crowning ironies of the entire project is that the “smoke stack” is set to be one of the greenest in the world: The power plant being built by BIG is actually a waste-to-energy plant, and it’s the single largest environment project in the works in Denmark, with a planned budget of $650 million. The waste-to-energy process generates mostly green energy, but it does emit carbon-dioxide filled smoke in the process.


But that irony is wholly intentional: The hope is that by pointing out carbon emissions even at the one place where you’d think they’d be totally guilt free, the art project will remind people that the battle against carbon is always ongoing — and that the path to a green future isn’t a straight line.

[Via Realities United]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.