An MIT startup made a simple device that turns filthy car exhaust into beautiful ink

Air ink car exhaust carbon soot kaalink kickstarter mit media lab rotatedGraviky LabsAn artist’s concept of the Kaalink device and its carbon-soot filter system.

One person’s disgusting vehicle exhaust is a clever entrepreneur’s treasure.

At least that’s how the two co-founders of Graviky Labs, a startup that sprang out of MIT Media Lab, are approaching the problem of air pollution from cars and buses with their product “Air-Ink”.

Their process starts with a device called a Kaalink, shown above as a see-through illustration and below attached to a car’s tailpipe. It’s a glorified filter that grabs black carbon soot from the burning of gasoline, diesel, and other fuels.

According to an email the company sent to Business Insider, each Kaalink is reusable and allegedly filters “between 85-95%” of soot emissions from a vehicle.

Air ink car exhaust carbon soot kaalink kickstarter mit media lab 2

“[B]y preventing particulate matter from entering into the air, we are able to prevent the health hazards associated with the inhalation of particulate matter,” Graviky Labs co-founder Anirudh Sharma and technical lead Nikhil Kaushik told Business Insider in a joint email.

A Kaalink won’t stop carbon dioxide gas from going into the air and exacerbating climate change, but it does target carbon soot that contributes to 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 — roughly the size of a single bacterium. Such pollution is so nasty, as Business Insider’s Lydia Ramsey explained in 2016, because it “can get lodged in the lungs and cause long-term health problems like asthma and chronic lung disease.”

PM 2.5 levels are so toxic in some cities that daily outdoor exercise like walking, running, or biking outside poses more of a health risk than staying home.

Sharma, Kaushik, and two others have been refining their technology for more than a year and recently soft-launched their Air-Ink product as a Kickstarter project with a nearly $US10,000 goal.

In terms of improving air quality on a massive scale, it’s highly unlikely that making ink out of car, truck, and bus exhaust will ever match the impact of regulations and pollution-scrubbing technologies built into nearly all modern cars. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting idea for the millions of beater cars and buses out there, particularly in developing nations where pollution ordinances are rare, or rarely enforced.

Air ink car exhaust carbon soot kaalink kickstarter mit media labGraviky LabsAn assortment of Air-Ink bottles.

Sharma and Kaushik also hope to make black-ink production more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

“We are replacing the consumption of fossil fuels to make carbon black [inks],” they say.

Graviky Labs claims the whole process — manufacturing the Kaalink exhaust caps, harvesting the soot from them, purging heavy metals from that gunk, and creating an industrial-grade black ink product — is carbon-neutral.

Put another way: Air-Ink allegedly captures more carbon emissions from vehicles than it takes to produce the ink.

They say it depends on which car is being filtered and how dirty its exhaust is, but typically each 1-ounce (30-mL) bottle of Air-Ink represents about 45 minutes’ worth of soot emissions being “canceled out.”

“A Kaalink unit attached to an old Euro 3 car should become neutral after running for approx. 200-300 kms [124-186 miles],” they say.

Graviky Labs’ Kickstarter runs through Tuesday, March 7, and you can read more about the backstory that led to Air-Ink here.

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