Air pollution is a problem in many of the world’s major cities and removing it requires 24/7 solutions, as well as a bit of imagination. Taking a literary run at the task, the University of Sheffield has revealed what it calls the “world’s first air-cleansing poem,” which is a combination of a new work by award-winning writer Simon Armitage and a chemical formula developed at Sheffield by Professor Tony Ryan. Like the Peru's recently installed air-purifying billboard, the project aims to help raise awareness about air pollution, as well as to help persuade British industry to adopt the air-cleansing technology more widely.

The banner carries the poem In Praise of Air by Professor of Poetry at the University Arimtage on a 10 x 20 m (32 x 64 ft) banner by Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science Professor Ryan. The poem itself isn't fighting pollution – except, perhaps, on a metaphorical level. The real pollution fighter is the banner’s coating of microscopic particles of titanium dioxide. This is the same chemical used in paints for road signs to make the white stand out and strongly reflect light. In this case, Ryan is making use of the titanium dioxide’s property of acting as a catalyst when sunlight hits it, causing oxygen to react with nitrogen oxide pollutants and purify the air.

“This poem alone will eradicate the nitrogen oxide pollution created by about 20 cars every day,” says Professor Ryan. “If every banner, flag or advertising poster in the country did this, we’d have much better air quality. It would add less than £100 to the cost of a poster and would turn advertisements into catalysts in more ways than one. The countless thousands of poster sites that are selling us cars beside our roads could be cleaning up emissions at the same time.”

In addition, as part of his Catalytic Clothing project, Ryan is trying to persuade British detergent makers to include titanium oxide into their washing powders as a way to turn people’s clothing into portable pollution fighters, which Ryan claims would let the United Kingdom meet its air quality targets in one go.

The banner with its poem is scheduled to remain on display for the next year on the side of the University’s Alfred Denny Building.