Air pollution is a predominant problem in the world today. According to the World Health Organisation, it kills around 7 million people annually. However, people are still relatively ignorant of its long-term effects, and continue to incur pollution in various ways.
Meanwhile, on a trip to India in 2012, Anirudh Sharma, a student of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, captured a photo of a diesel generator blowing black soot against a white wall. It made him think seriously regarding pollution, and how the burnt fossil fuel can be recycled to be used as ink for cartridges. In 2013, Sharma and a few friends “hacked” an inkjet printer cartridge to print using ink made from soot from a a candle at the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT’s Media Lab. A year later, following the completion of his master’s degree at MIT, Sharma returned to India to focus fully on developing what would become a product called AIR-INK, the first commercial ink made entirely from air pollution. It wasn’t hard to find pollution sources for experimenting. Since India still does not have ample systems in place to get rid of wastes, AIR-INK became an opportunity for them to do that so that the wastes do not end up in a landfill.
They developed a filtering device called “Kaalink” that comprised of a steel cylinder that could be affixed to an exhaust pipe. Kaalink can be scaled up to filter air pollution from just about any source and turn it into soot, which can then be hydrated to form ink to be used in AIR-INK pens and markers. Each marker holds about 30 milliliters of AIR-INK, which is equivalent to approximately 45 minutes of diesel car pollution. Sharma and his team then started a company called Graviky Labs which is stockpiling soot emitted by diesel-burning engines to recycle into black ink. The KAALINK technology harnesses one of the world’s most health-damaging particulates, known as PM 2.5. The carbon from that pollution is then transformed into a certified-safe AIR-INK pigment that can be used in pens, textiles, packaging and artwork. It has been deemed one of the best inventions of 2019 as per Time Magazine.
For now, AIR-INK is commercially available only in marker form. But in the coming months, Graviky plans to launch an online platform for customized printing.
Sharma wanted to take a unique route when it came to sharing his product with the world for the first time. In 2016, he paired up with the Singapore-based brewery Tiger Beer to create street art and murals using AIR-INK in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district.
Sharma explains, “Art wasn’t the way to make money for us — it was the way for us to build a community. They [artists] take this idea beyond the science and the impact. “
If you enjoyed reading this article, we suggest you also read: