What if the ugly, in this case air pollutants, could give birth to something beautiful?
One of our most common industrial outputs, soot, has a harmful effect on human and environmental health, but thanks to some resourceful thinking and innovation in pollution capture technology, combined with the development of a process for detoxifying and refining it, it can be 'recycled' into ink and paints.
An MIT Media Lab spinoff company is turning soot into an art supply, which at first glance seems to be working backward - after all, shouldn't we focus on reducing soot and other particulate emissions? However, like many issues, there is more than one way to skin an avocado, and perhaps by turning something harmful into something useful, it could be part of a potent message about the importance of addressing air pollution, by providing one of the tools for artistic expression and activism.
A device developed by Graviky, called Kaalink, can capture 95% of particulate matter from tailpipes and other air pollution sources, without inducing back-pressure (which can harm the operation of those sources), which is then refined and detoxified and turned into a high-quality black ink called Air Ink. According to Graviky, 45 minutes worth of vehicular emissions captured by the Kaalink device can produce 1 fluid ounce of Air Ink, and in essence, the device and its products could help to mitigate some of the world's most harmful emissions.
"Our vision is to arrest the vehicular soot in a way that it doesn’t reach our lungs. The process of creating AirInk carefully detoxifies heavy metals and particle carcinogens from the soot or carbon. The pollutants which could have been in the lungs of millions of people are now beautifully resting as art." - Graviky
According to Graviky, the idea for Air Ink began as an experiment at the MIT Media Lab, where the team wanted to develop and run a handheld printer that uses candle soot, and after demonstrating the rough prototype at a few conferences, they found that both environmentalists and artists loved the idea. Following on from the prototype, the team worked to build a device that could capture the pollution from vehicle tailpipes, and to develop the processes that could remove the heavy metals and other toxic components from the 'harvested' pollution, and turn it into an ink that is said to be "as safe as any on the market."
The current process to produce Air Ink is very labor intensive, and can only be done on a small scale, so the company has turned to Kickstarter for crowdfunding, and is offering four different sizes of refillable Air Ink markers, as well as a screen printing ink, to backers.
"Air-Ink is the first ink made entirely out of air pollution. We've repurposed pollutants into tools for art. Whenever the inks or markers are used to draw, write, paint or create, they’re literally making our streets more beautiful." - Graviky