Using mosses to fight air pollution

Photo of Achintya Kumar

Written by

Eligibility: Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • Yes

Date Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

This was not one of the ideas that hit me. I’m from India and almost everyday I used to read or hear in the news, that India and specifically New Delhi has become one of the most polluted cities in the world. There are millions of deaths in India due to pollution every year and research indicates that the average life of a Delhi resident has been reduced by 10 years owing to air pollution. This as an engineer was almost hurtful to see. I thought to myself “If we could send a person to the Moon more than 50 years ago, we can surely figure out a way to remove dust particles from air” and so I started. I am stepping up to make change because I can’t see millions and billions across the world get affected due to pollution. I believe in using technology to affect good in this world, so this is me stepping up to fight air pollution.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Air pollution. The air pollution levels of cities have been increasing rapidly, especially in the Asian subcontinent. Almost every major city in North and Central India has hazardous levels of air pollution. The main components of pollution are the fine dust particles (PM) and gases like nitrogen dioxide and ozone. Research shows that 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air and we want to do something about it.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Vaayu. We’re building biotech filters that use a colony of mosses that we've formulated specifically to purify the air. The final device would be a 3 metre square vertical garden of mosses that will trap fine dust particles and carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Mosses don’t need soil to grow and therefore they look for nutrients from the air. They have a natural capability of holding dust particles and they do so by ionizing their surface and attracting the already ionized air particles. They also breathe in nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Calculations from already existing research proposals show that a filter having an area of 3 metre square would have the same carbon dioxide binding capacity as 240 trees. This also helps in cooling the air as well as reduce noise pollution as requires no electricity and almost no maintenance. The filter has a self irrigation system that uses a small microcontroller to track the moisture levels and releases water when the moisture levels fall below a certain amount.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Right now, most of our work has been in research. Most of our work has been meeting with professors and researchers asking about the various kinds of mosses that would be suitable for an environment like India. We have also been working on designing the filter and figuring out the optimal spacing between mosses to ensure air circulation as well as calculating the amount of water needed to keep the colony alive. The other aspect has been talking to the government. We’ve been meeting quite a few government officials to see if the government would be willing to have this in public spaces.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

The air filter we’re building would be more cost efficient than anything out there. The estimated costs after growing our own mosses would be around 80 dollars, most of which would be transportation and assembly. The government has invested in water sprinklers and air filters that suck air but none of them can achieve this efficiency at this cost. The air filters need huge rotors and the electricity bill to keep it running for a week alone would be hundreds of dollars and is also unsafe to be kept in public spaces. Our solution is effective, costs next to nothing, requires no maintenance.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Most of the impact we’ve made is in research. We’ve figured out most of our schematics like the species of mosses needed, water, and design. We also have the government of one city willing to have these filters installed in a park and we should have it up there in a month. We have built a team of around 6 people so far, all of which are students and we plan to expand more. This, of course, is nothing compared to what we plan to achieve. We want to make a visible difference in the air quality of Indian cities, and then later expand to other countries across the world.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Once we have our first filter installed, we’re going to contact other city governments and form partnerships to install our filters in public spaces. We’re also planning on making smaller filters for houses which people could install in their gardens, balconies etc.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

Government support and a website. The only two things that we need is government support and a website. We need the government’s approval to install these filters in public spaces, and once we have it, we can install them and move closer towards our goal. We need the website to get our name out there to show that there is someone out there doing this and also build on legitimacy.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $100-$1k

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

So far, we have been involving our friends and family for operations and development. In the future, we plan to involve students as city ambassadors who would look over operations in one specific city. We could partner with changemakers who have been working in the field of pollution and climate change. We are very excited to see how the other changemakers would be able to help us.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 50%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 16.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 16.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 50%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 50%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 50%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 50%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 50%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 40%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 20%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 20%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 20%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ariyan Miller

Hey There Fellow Changemaker,

Congrats on moving to the next phase. I wishing you the best of luck ! & I am sending love and light to all the positive things that you do.

Photo of Micah Martinez

I think environmentalism is a stance that people take for granted and that we as one world should realize the damage that we do to our world and that we should do more to prevent further measures of destruction, great idea!

Photo of Achintya Kumar

It's been taken granted for too long. Thank you!

Photo of Mamoudou Bah

Extremely intelligent and well-thought out idea, I love it Achintya Kumar and I love how you recognize the issue of pollution in our world today. Not just that, but you're tackling it in a new way! I would love to work with you in the near future to help solve the issue of pollution in our world!

Photo of Achintya Kumar

Thank you so much! We're always looking for new people to expand this to other countries to and you're more than welcome to join us!

Photo of Tia Johnston Brown

I love that you are trying to solve the problem of air pollution. Its a huge problem. You are thinking creatively and I can tell you have the drive you will need to make this happen!

Photo of Achintya Kumar

Thank you so much for your support!

Photo of Brittany Corner

Brilliant and truly creative idea that see solutions in unlikely places

Photo of Achintya Kumar

Thank you so much! We won't stop until we reach our goal.

Photo of Ezra Bram

"If we could send a person to the moon 50 years ago, why can't we separate a few dust particles from the air?" YES! haha your tenacity and blatant drive is spot on, because we should be much further along than where we are, especially in terms of air quality! Having visited India a few times myself, I totally understand the debilitating pollution that Indians live in day in and day out. I'm pumped to see you stepping up! I hope the best for you!
If you're ever in the Denver area, we would love to welcome you at CATALYST COFFEE AND TAPHOUSE to further encourage your innovation with other likeminded world changers!

Photo of Achintya Kumar

Hi Ezra,
I'm glad to see people excited for this and thank you so much for your kind words. We would definitely like to visit you when we're in Denver. Best of luck!

Photo of Adam Nicholson

This is awesome! I was getting so excited just reading trough your solution. It is crazy how little moss is needed to clean air the equivalent of 240 trees! I feel like this has potential to take off! We are cheering for you! Keep up the good work.

Photo of Achintya Kumar

Hi Adam,
Thank you so much for your kind words, they mean a lot to us! We're working on this everyday and we will have prototypes up in cities soon!

Photo of Tyler Vogel

Very interesting idea, keep up the good work!

Photo of Achintya Kumar

Thank you, Tyler. Your idea seems very interesting too! Best of luck!