By Doris Liu
BEIJING (Reuters) - A Dutch artist opened what he calls the world's largest air purifier in Beijing on Thursday, beginning the first leg of a China tour to raise awareness of environmental problems.
The seven-metre-high (7.66-yard-high) Smog Free Tower, part of the Smog Free Project started by artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde, creates a "bubble of clean air enabling citizens to experience clean air for free," according to his website.
The tower captures and collects more than 75 percent of airborne smog particles that have diameters of 2.5 microns and 10 microns and releases clean air around the structure.
"The Smog Free Project is about the Smog Free Tower providing clean air, but it's also about the Smog Free Ring creating an engagement and making the people in China part of the solution, instead of just feeling part of the problem," Roosegaarde told Reuters.
In his campaign, the artist also collects smog particles from the tower and compresses them into jewelry, such as a ring and cufflinks.
Decades of growth-at-all-costs economic development in China has spawned massive problems of air, water and soil pollution that the ruling Communist Party has only in recent years begun to tackle.
Nationwide, China has earmarked 17 trillion yuan ($2.6 trillion) for investment in environmental protection between 2016 and 2020, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Beijing itself has promised compensation to firms closed on pollution grounds.
One resident said she would like to see more projects like the tower to raise awareness of air pollution in Beijing.
"My whole family was coughing due to the smog the other day," said Wang Aili, 34, adding that her son could not play outside when air pollution levels were high.
"I hope there can be more equipment or artwork that can raise people's awareness of smog in Beijing," she said. "I hope we can have more blue skies."
The Smog Free Project will travel to four major Chinese cities in the coming year, according to the website.
(Editing by Darren Schuettler)