What better way to combat air pollution than to re-purpose it? One company is putting the exhaust from car pipes to good (not to mention creative) use by converting it into ink for artists. Using a unit that retrofits to the exhaust pipe of car engines, the India-based MIT spin-off Graviky Labs is making what they call Air-Ink – “the first ink made entirely out of air pollution.”

The catchment, called a Kaalink, is attached to exhaust pipes and is automatically turned on when the engine is activated. The unit captures up to 95% of particulate matter without inducing back-pressure on the engine – meaning that it does not adversely affect the engine’s operations. Once the lights on the unit turn from blue to red, the catchment is full and ready to be emptied.

“After we are done capturing the raw carbon, the soot, we take it through a purification process and then we convert that air pollution into printing ink. The same technology can be scaled to fit onto boats, chimneys and brick kilns and cranes,” explains co-founder of Graviky Labs Anirudh Sharma. During the purification process, trace heavy metals and carcinogens are removed from the soot captured, making the ink safe for artists to use.

It was perhaps teaming up with Singapore’s flagship Tiger Beer to produce a range of pens, markers and spray cans under the brand Air-Ink that has gave Graviky the oomph it needed to reach a larger audience.

After going through trials and converting the soot into ink, the team gave the pens to emerging artists in Hong Kong to test on the streets of their city. The artists included artist and graphic designer Catherine Grossrieder (Cath Love), mural artist and illustrator Bao H, multimedia and animation artist Lei Lei, graphic designer and illustrator Kristopher H, street artist Caratoes, graphic designer, illustrator and artist Calvin Ho, culture enthusiast and founder of Hong Kong’s first graffiti supply store Dirty Panda Ken Lee, fusion artist Sinic, graffiti artist Xeme, and Smilemaker (Roes).


Co-founder of Graviky Labs Anirudh Sharma

Tiger and Graviky have made 150 liters (gallons) of Air-Ink to-date, collecting more than 2,500 hours worth of diesel emissions from trucks, ferries, chimneys and cranes in Hong Kong and India. Their products include ink markers, which come in different sizes, spray cans and refills. Each product includes information on how many minutes of diesel car pollution went into making it.

According to recent reports, “air pollution is now recognized as the world’s single largest environmental and human health threat.” Kaalink – the catchment that captures soot on the tailpipes of cars – was conceived of in 2013, and the idea was first seeded at the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT Media Lab.

“That fusion of art, that fusion of expression, and science, when it happens, I think new magic appears,” says Sharma.


Artists at Air-Ink launch event. All photos courtesy of Air-Ink/Graviky.