The Believers

Alan Darlington: Clean-Air Engineer


THE BAD NEWS: ACCORDING TO EPA estimates, indoor air can be five times more polluted than the air outside—and Americans spend an average of 90 percent of their time inside. The good news: Filters made from plants—which host toxin-digesting microbes—can help create purer air. Canadian biologist Alan Darlington, 46, helped come up with the idea in 1994, at Ontario's University of Guelph, while researching air-filtration strategies for the Canadian and European space agencies. Nine years later, he built his first commercial biowall—a polyester-mesh structure embedded with plants like orchids and bromeliads—which reduces some pollutants by as much as 95 percent. Now Darlington's company, Guelph–based Air Quality Solutions, has manufactured eight 32-to-1,500-square-foot walls in Canada and installed the first U.S. wall at Biohabitats, an environmental-restoration firm in Baltimore, this past September. What's next? Biowalls small enough for private homes, which Darlington hopes to unveil in 2007.

From Outside Magazine, Dec 2005 Get the Latest Issue

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