The word pollution rarely brings to mind anything positive. But MIT Media Lab spinout Graviky Labs in India is enacting a surprising scheme to transform some of the grime contaminating our environment into tools for artists.
Graviky founder Anirudh Sharma SM ’14 conceived of Air Ink after talking with friends about how heavy air pollution in India stained their clothes. The Graviky team has spent the past three years researching how to purify and repurpose carbon soot from auto emissions—a major contributor to air pollution—into pens, oil-based paints, and spray paints.
The technology behind Air Ink captures carbon emissions from the tailpipes of cars, purifies it to remove carcinogens and other pollutants, then transforms it into paint. According to Sharma, a single Air Ink pen contains 30–40 minutes of car pollution.
In a recent project sponsored by Tiger Beer, Graviky Labs handed over Air Ink to artists in Hong Kong—150 liters, equivalent to roughly 2,500 hours of diesel car pollution, according to Sharma—to create murals with the product. Participant Cath Love declared Air Ink “great for painting.” Love continued, “I’m not a scientist… but to make use of what we already have in the air, instead of extracting it from new materials—is really a positive approach to creating sustainable art.”
Although pleased with results so far, Sharma—who earned his MIT degree working with the Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group—realizes Air Ink isn’t poised to save the planet quite yet: his team continues to investigate ways to scale up production. “What we’re doing at this point,” he said in a recent interview, “is repurposing a pollutant that makes people sick, is destroying our environment, and exists all around us in our air.”