Air-Ink Is Black Pigment Made From Captured Car Exhaust

Brilliance | Dec. 18, 2017

Pollution is ugly. In some cities, the exhaust from cars and buses can get so bad that it leaves a dark shadow on buildings, cars, and even clothing. For one engineer, that posed an opportunity: why not turn that black soot into something useful? That's how Air-Ink was conceived.

When Life Gives You Lemons

The brainchild behind the invention is Anirudh Sharma, a computer engineer and member of MIT Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces Group who was visiting family in Mumbai when he got the idea for Air Ink. The megacity is the fifth most polluted in the world, and he was sure there was something that could be done with all the soot flying through the air. The first step, however, was to capture it. Sharma created a cylindrical metal device called Kaalink, which is designed to fit over the exhaust pipe of cars, trucks, and generators and captures 95 percent of particulate matter before it can pollute the air.

Once the Kaalink collects the soot, engineers filter out any glass or heavy metals within it to leave just the black particles behind. That filtering is important, as Sharma told FastCoDesign: "Overall, the soot is dangerous because of its aerosol nature, which ends up in our lungs. By cleaning it of heavy metals, and confining/binding it as inks, it becomes as safe as any other ink." The filtered particles then get mixed with vegetable oil to create a whole slew of Air-Ink products, including pen ink, markers, and paints.

Its Planetary Impact

How is this solution helping curb pollution? So far, the Kaalink devices have collected 1.6 billion micrograms of particulate matter, which equates to cleaning 1.6 trillion liters of air. 45 minutes of emissions is enough to produce 1 fluid ounce of ink, meaning each Air-Ink marker could hold the equivalent of 40–130 minutes of diesel car pollution. As of this writing, the products are only available through the project's Kickstarter. But with enough adopters, this sleek black ink could really make a difference.

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