“Where do new ideas come from? The answer is simple: differences. Creativity comes from unlikely juxtapositions.”
– Nicholas Negroponte
Air-Ink was invented by engineer Anirudh Sharma while a student at MIT Media Lab when he was inspired on a walk around Mumbai. Realizing that the soot and vehicle exhaust all around him could be turned into something useful, he founded startup Graviky Labs to create the world’s first fine art inks and paints made of air pollution.
How it’s done
While the concept seems simple, the process of harvesting and creating ink out of exhaust is not. Graviky Labs had to create a way to collect soot with a universal device that could be retrofitted to the exhaust pipes of diesel engines. Their creation is now known as the Kaalink, a cylinder that can capture 95% of particulate material.
The Kaalink has already been tested to capture 1.6 billion micrograms of particulate matter. That means 1.6 trillion liters of air has been successfully cleaned without affecting engine performance.
After the Kaalink performs initial filtration and collection, the captured pollution is taken to the lab for purification. Toxic materials like heavy metals, oils, and VOCs are removed through gravity separation and other proprietary processes and disposed of safely. Then the soot goes through a grinding process that creates an artist-quality pigment. It takes only 45 minutes of driving around to create 1 fluid ounce of ink, enough to fill one Air-Ink pen.
There are several other benefits besides just removing pollution from the air. Producing regular black ink requires burning fossil fuels and creates more pollution, while Air-Ink is doing the opposite. Many carbon-capture solutions include burying liquefied CO2 in the ground, but these run the risk of allowing it back into the air. By turning pollution into pigment, the CO2 is packaged safely away.
Graviky has created a line of artist tools that include fine tip and wide tip markers and screen printing ink. In the future the company wants to create oil-based paints and fabric paints as well. After a successful Kickstarter campaign in March, Graviky has been travelling the world challenging artists to create street art, illustrations and art installations with Air-Ink that demonstrate not only the bold quality of the ink, but the importance of creating innovative environmental solutions as well.
“For us, artists have been the key stakeholders in the whole process – right from being the first users of Air-Ink to spreading the word around about it,” said Nikhil Kaushik, co-founder of Graviky. “Coming from different parts of the world, they have given different expressions to Air-Ink. As a result, Air-Ink is much more than what it was as a concept in our lab. Many among them have volunteered to test the inks and help us in improving the formulations.”
Over the course of one year, that 1.6 trillion liters of air has yielded 770 liters of liquid ink. This is the equivalent of particulate emissions that would be emitted by continuously driving a diesel sedan for just over 2 years. As part of this initial testing, Kaalinks were installed on Tiger beer trucks across Asia. When the light on the Kaalink turned red to indicate they were full, Tiger returned the collected pollution to Graviky. The resulting Air-Ink was turned over to the best emerging artists in Hong Kong to create amazing street art all over the city.
The future of Air Ink
The Kickstarter may have ended, but Graviky has plans to start selling products online soon. These will include permanent marker based inks, calligraphy ink, acrylic emulsion, screen printing ink, inkjet printer ink, as well as offset and packaging printing. Earlier this year, London artist Kristopher Ho told The Guardian, “I don’t know if it’s the pollution, but the quality of the ink is really special. It’s pitch black, really thick, and dries incredibly quickly.” It is designed to stand on its own as a professional artist’s tool.
According to the World Health Organization, a mind boggling 92% of the world’s population lives in a place where air pollution is at a dangerous level, and in 2012 air pollution could be linked to 11.6% of all global deaths. These deaths are due to tiny particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers that penetrate deep into the lungs and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic lung disease, and lung cancer. The Kaalink is able to capture 95% of these dangerous particles before they ever enter the air, and by creating a solution for what to do with those particles once they have been captured, Graviky has found a way to close the loop on vehicle emissions.
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