New Ink is Made from Repurposed Air Pollution

The pen is mightier than the sword. What's mightier than the pen, you ask? Easy. A Graviky Labs Air-Ink pen. "How could one pen be mightier than every other pen," you ask, outraged. Well most pens use traditional ink which is produced in a process that involves burning fossil fuels. Air-Ink pens are different—instead of burning fossil fuels to produce their ink, Graviky labs actually collects and repurposes carbon from air pollution that already exists. Rather than contributing to climate change, their production process actually combats it. Which is good, because air pollution is a major environmental health issue, killing about 7-million people per year, according to the World Health Organization.

"Pollution is bad, but pollution happens to be a really good raw material to make inks," says Graviky co-founder Anirudh Sharma. Back in 2012 Anirudh, then a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, was visiting India when he captured a photo of a diesel generator blowing black exhaust against a stained wall, and had a revelation. "You shouldn't need to burn new fossil fuels just to make ink. Fossil fuels are already being burned." He returned to MIT and in 2013 he and a few friends successfully adapted an inkjet printer to print using ink collected from candle soot. That early success led to more tinkering, and soon they had invented a breakthrough device called the Kaalink.

The Kaalink is a small cylindrical filter that attaches to a vehicle's exhaust tailpipe and collects carbon soot, which Graviky then turns into ink. The device is reusable and filters "between 85-95%" of soot emissions. While the filter doesn't stop CO2 gas from entering the atmosphere, the soot it does capture would otherwise be a highly dangerous environmental pollutant. That pollutant, called PM 2.5, can cause serious health problems like asthma and lung disease. Graviky Labs' entire process, from manufacturing the Kaalink, collecting and processing the soot, and producing the black ink, is carbon-neutral. Each 30 milliliter bottle of Air-Ink is equivalent to approximately 45 minutes worth of vehicular soot emissions.

In terms of improving air quality, Air-Ink can't compete with the improved technology that more recent cars use to combat pollution, but it can be applied to millions of older vehicles, especially in developing countries where pollution ordinances "are rare—or rarely enforced." According to Anirudh, "Pollution is nothing but resources we're not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value." Air-Ink may not be a cure-all for climate change, but Anirudh is hoping it's just one of many ways to start using pollution productively: "It's a start, and it can inspire several others to start looking at new forms of waste that are lying outside, unutilized."

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