This Bengaluru start-up converts air pollution into usable ink

Graviky, the company, however, says that their primary goal is to reduce air pollution through their trademarked product titled Kaalink

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The ink from air pollution was used to paint the streets of Hong Kong

A Bengaluru-based firm has found a way to trap pollutants, separate the carbon from the particulate matter and use this carbon to make ink. This novel process shows us ways in recycling air pollution and could pave the way to tackle pollution-related issues that plague several parts of India.

Graviky Labs, the company behind the innovation, is a MIT Media Lab Spin-off. The company was founded by MIT Media Lab alumnus Anirudh Sharma with Nikhil Kaushik and Nitesh Kadyan.  The company, in their website, say that they fuse disciplines, technologies, design thinking to build high impact deployable systems, products and visions. “Our current area of work is applying high technology and design thinking to environment issues,” they say.

Video Source: Tiger Beer and Graviky

Although the trio are based out of Bengaluru, all of them grew up in Delhi. “We know how bad Delhi gets. There’s smog in winter and the temperatures are higher in summer, primarily because of the pollutants. That’s when Anirudh had a ‘eureka’ moment,” said Nikhil, while speaking to dna over telephone.

The theory is simple: carbonaceous emissions from engines are black in colour.  Anirudh came up with the potential of capturing pollution and repurposing it to use as ink. “We thought what if we could use it as a pigment for colouring. We then tied up with several designers, artists, chemists, and automobile experts to make this a reality,” added Nikhil.

The ink is created through a three-step process.  In the first stage, Graviky’s trademarked product Kaalink, a contraption retrofitted to the exhaust pipes of vehicles, captures soot emitted from the automobiles. When we questioned whether it would affect the engine, given that Kaalink was attached on the exhaust pipe, Nikhil said that the contraption has been designed in such a way so that the hot air escapes the vehicle and the particulate matter is left behind.

In the second step, the collected soot undergoes various proprietary processes to remove heavy metals and carcinogens.  The end product is purified carbon pigment – a core ingredient used in making ink and paints. “We process the captured pollution to remove the heavy metals and carcinogens.  However, the inks used for art work/graffiti etc are not fit for inhalation/ingestion.  This is similar for any other ink or paint. The artists are aware of the risks and take standard precautions for their safety,” he said.

The entire process has been tested out in Hong Kong, where the Graviky team in association with Tiger Beer used 2,500 hours worth of carbon emissions to create 150 litres of Air-ink, using which the artists painted the streets of Hong Kong. It was a stunning amalgamation of science and art to create something beautiful out of thin air.

Although they are doing their bit to curb air pollution, albeit on a small scale (which hopefully could become a large-scale project in future), the team at Graviky know that they have their work cut out for them. “Firstly, pollution isn’t going away anytime soon. Secondly, thermal power is still a leading source of energy, despite the availability of renewable alternatives,” says Nikhil. 

The team adds that it will be a while before clean energy replaces polluting fuels. While Graviky has made this ink using soot, it wants go a step further to repurpose the soot to make carbon nano-tubes.

Although Kaalink isn’t commercially available as yet, Nikhil tells us that the plan is to not start selling it to individual customers. “We would ideally look at public vehicles like buses and taxis that dock at a particular point every day. This area will have specially trained individuals to remove the particulate matter and separate it from soot,” he said,  adding that the final goal is to take the company’s inks anywhere and do their bit to reduce air pollution. “We are working improving the efficiency of capturing processes. A separate effort is being made to broaden our portfolio by adding more varieties of inks and paints,” said Nikhil

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