Air pollution is a global problem with few solutions beyond government regulations like The Clean Air Act in the United States and similar regulations in other countries.
The problem has gotten so severe that air pollution in India is leading to nearly 1.1 million deaths each year.
While government regulations may currently be the most effective way to reduce emissions, a device has come out of an MIT spinoff company in India to convert vehicle exhaust into ink.
From Kaalink to Air Ink
The device is called Kaalink. It is attached to the exhaust pipe of a vehicle, where it then filters and captures unburned carbon emitted by incomplete engine combustion.
This invention comes from Graviky Labs, a spinoff company from MIT Media Lab, who claims that the device can capture up to 93 percent of the emitted pollution from standard internal combustion engines.
An ounce of ink is produced by about 45 minutes of exhaust. At present, the devices are manually and individually installed by drivers, and after about two weeks of city driving are traded in at a Graviky Labs facility in India.
Graviky Labs, an Indian startup, has developed a method of capturing car emissions and turning them into ink. Forty five minutes of car exhaust fumes can create enough ink for one marker pen. They've produced a range of inks and paints they plan to sell to artists on Kickstarter, hoping this leads to more art and less pollution.
Posted by The Guardian on Thursday, March 2, 2017
The system must be scaled up significantly for it to be effective. The company’s Kickstarter campaign is hoping to fund that expansion.
The company has also paired up with Tiger Beer to expand awareness and advertise Air Ink. Graviky Labs even hopes to expand the system to work on chimneys, smokestacks and other industrial exhaust systems.
Soot (Almost) Good Enough to Print With
The technology behind the product is kept secret, but in a demo done by cofounder Anirudh Sharma, a suction pump pulls the air around a burning candle into a mechanism that separates the carbon black from the rest of the air.
The soot is then mixed with alcohol and oil to create ink. Sharma claims that, with additional research, the ink produced will be as good as the ink sold by HP. One HP cartridge could be filled by about 60 minutes of diesel engine carbon, only ten minutes from a chimney.
Fighting Air Pollution
Unfortunately, a Kaalink device won’t stop carbon dioxide gas from going into the air and exacerbating climate change, but the carbon soot captured is a dangerous form of pollution called PM 2.5.
The “PM” stands for “particulate matter,” and the “2.5” stands for 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller, or roughly the size of a single bacterium.
Toxic PM 2.5 levels in cities pose serious health risks such as asthma and chronic lung disease. In these cities, outdoor exercise poses more of a health risk than staying home.
Ultimately, technology like this can’t work as effectively against air pollution as measures that stop pollution at the source, such as government regulations and fuel-free vehicles.
However, the health risks imposed by air pollution in cities can’t wait for such solutions. India is now the world leader in air pollution.
If Kaalink becomes a mainstream device, toxic air could be reduced and lives could be saved. Maybe printer ink will get cheaper, too.