This lab is capturing pollution and turning it into paint
Air Ink, a brand new concept by India-based Graviky Labs, uses polluted air to create paint and ink. The company's first line of Air Ink products includes pens, oil-based paints and spray paints. Each product contains pigments made from carbon soot.
The ink is the brainchild of Graviky Labs founder Anirudh Sharma, who describes himself as a chronic inventor. Sharma previously created LeChal, a smart shoe fitted with sensors that help the visually-impaired walk, through gentle vibrations.
In a recent partnership with Tiger Beer, Graviky Labs tested its soot-based product in Hong Kong -- which is known for its high pollution -- and put it in the hands of local artists. 9 artists were invited to paint murals with the ink in the city's Sheung Wan district.
Capturing carbon soot
Sharma was first inspired to create Air Ink after a conversation with his friends in India, during which, many complained about how heavy air pollution would leave marks on their clothes.
He experimented with the idea as a researcher at MIT media lab, and then went on to start Graviky Labs in India -- further developing the concept.
"I thought, artists create their work through smudging, marks, ink and paint. How do we tackle this air pollution problem creatively, like an artist would? What if we used art as a way to repurpose this carbon soot?"
So for the past three years, Sharma's team at Graviky Labs have researched just that -- how to capture, purify and re-purpose carbon soot, and turn it into an usable paint for art.
Painting with pollution
Car emissions are one of the biggest contributing factors of India's serious pollution woes. The air in Delhi, for example, was rated as having the world's most polluted air (with the highest concentration of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers) by the World Health Organization in 2014.
"Because of this, we wanted to create technology that can capture a vehicle's carbon emissions without compromising the performance of the vehicle."
The carbon soot is first captured using a cylindric device that is fit over the car's exhaust pipe. Next, Sharma says, the soot undergoes a purification process that removes heavy metals and carcinogens.
The purified carbon soot is then blended with other materials to turn it into a durable paint.
"The soot is blended with oils to create oil-based paint, the spray paint is packaged with compressed gas and canned -- to a user, the end results are materials that function much like any other paint they use."
A single Air Ink pen, Sharma claims, contains 30-40 minutes of carbon emissions from a single car.
"At this point we're experimenting further on how we can use this purified carbon. Maybe one day, we'll even create sculptures."
Is this the most creative way to save the planet?
The product is still in development and Sharma is hesitant to describe it as a product that can save the planet, just yet. But he explains that Air Ink's overall purpose is to reduce the amount of particulate matter in the air.
"The ink will confine the particulate matter (found) in emissions, that would have otherwise gone in our lungs.
"What we're doing at this point is repurposing a pollutant that makes people sick, is destroying our environment, and exists all around us in our air."
Sharma says the lab's work with ink is far from complete -- currently his team is researching ways to produce the product on a larger scale, in the most efficient and environmentally safe way possible.
Cath Love, an artist who participated in the Air Ink artist initiative Hong Kong, believes that the idea -- although still in its early stages -- is "genius, and deserves a chance."
"I'm not a scientist, I can't tell you if this would leave a dent in the state of our environment. But this concept -- to make use of what we already have in the air, instead of extracting it from new materials -- really is a positive approach to creating sustainable art."