Smoke to ink

Two Indian star­tups are con­vert­ing pol­luted air par­ti­cles into inks and paints

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - KARNIKA BAHUGUNA | NEW DELHI @down2earth­in­dia

Two Indian star­tups are mak­ing ink and paints from par­ti­cles of pol­luted air

NOT MANY of us look at pol­lu­tion as a re­source that can be har­vested, but some young en­trepreneurs are set­ting a trend. Close to one mil­lion peo­ple in In­dia die pre­ma­turely each year due to air pol­lu­tion, and the coun­try is all set to over­take China in such deaths. While we all dread air pol­lu­tion, two Indian star­tups have cre­ated a business op­por­tu­nity by cap­tur­ing it and us­ing it as a raw ma­te­rial to cre­ate inks and paints. Chakr is one such startup based in Delhi. It cap­tures soot from diesel gen­er­a­tors to man­u­fac­ture inks and paints. In Ben­galuru, Graviky Labs has also de­vel­oped ways to trap harm­ful soot and cre­ate ink out of it.

Chakr was founded by three en­gi­neers of the Indian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (iit), Delhi: Ar­pit Dhu­par, Pra­teek Sachan and Kusha­gra Sri­vas­tava. “The idea came to Ar­pit when he was hav­ing sug­ar­cane juice at a road­side stall that used a crusher pow­ered by a diesel en­gine. The ex­haust of the crusher was fac­ing a wall which had turned black. That was the ini­tial build­ing block,” says Sri­vas­tava, the 22-year-old chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Chakr. What fol­lowed was con­tin­u­ous brain­storm­ing for a cou­ple of months, be­fore Chakr Shield—a de­vice that cap­tures soot from the ex­hausts of diesel gen­er­a­tors—was born. The com­pany has al­ready raised 2 crore from ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists based in the US, Sin­ga­pore and In­dia.

Cur­rently, over 30 such retro­fit de­vices are in oper­a­tion across the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion (ncr). Chakr claims to have cap­tured over 180 kg of par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM) and in the process pu­ri­fied 90 bil­lion cu­bic me­tres (m3) of air (5,000 cu­bic me­tres of air in ncr has 1 g of PM). The com­pany also man­u­fac­tures inkjet print­ers and T-shirts from Poink—an ink made from cap­tured soot. Each T-shirt, which uses ink con­verted from soot, pre­vents over 7,000

m3 of air from get­ting pol­luted. This is the amount of air an av­er­age per­son breathes in four years.

“The PM that we cap­ture is turned into ink. For one litre of ink, about 30 g of PM is used, with which we can print 25-30 shirts de­pend­ing on the de­sign and fabric. This means, on every T-shirt, we are ap­ply­ing 1 g of PM. The av­er­age PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tion in Delhi’s air is close to 180-200 mi­cro­grammes (0.00018-0.0002 g) per cu­bic me­tre of air,” ex­plains Sri­vas­tava.

The com­pany has found many clients, in­clud­ing bsnl, mtnl, Re­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the Amer­i­can Tower Cor­po­ra­tion and a few real es­tate firms, es­pe­cially for Chakr Shield. “We are also ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Delhi Metro and kfc to in­stall th­ese de­vices. Cur­rently, we are fo­cus­ing on B2B sales, but Poink will soon be avail­able on e-com­merce por­tals. Fur­ther di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion will de­pend on mar­ket’s re­sponse to the ink,” he says.

From pol­lu­tion to pig­ment

Guided by the same en­vi­ron­men­tal con­scious­ness, Graviky Labs con­verts ve­hic­u­lar soot into a pu­ri­fied car­bon-based pig­ment. The startup was founded by three pas­sion­ate young men—Anirudh Sharma, a grad­u­ate from the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy’s (mit’s) Me­dia Lab; Nikhil Kaushik, a char­tered ac­coun­tant, and Nitesh Kadyan, who holds a de­gree in com­puter sci­ence from the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy (iiit), Ban­ga­lore. While Anirudh is the Chief Dis­rup­tor, Nitesh is the Hard­ware Lead of the com­pany and Nikhil looks af­ter business op­er­a­tions.

The idea of in­vent­ing a de­vice that can trap soot ger­mi­nated in Anirudh’s mind in 2013, dur­ing his stint at mit, where he re­alised the po­ten­tial of cap­tur­ing emis­sions from engines and re­pur­pos­ing them to be used as ink. “We ex­plored the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing emis­sions as a pig­ment for colour­ing. Later, we tied up with sev­eral de­sign­ers, artists, chemists and au­to­mo­bile ex­perts,” says Kaushik. At Graviky Labs, the ink is cre­ated by a three-step process. “In the first stage, we use our pro­pri­etary tech­nol­ogy Kaalink to cap­ture the soot emit­ted from ve­hi­cles. This de­vice is retro­fit­ted to ex­haust pipes of ve­hi­cles to trap the pol­lu­tants. In the sec­ond stage, the soot col­lected by Kaalink goes through sev­eral chem­i­cal pro­cesses to re­move heavy met­als and car­cino­gens to pro­duce a pu­ri­fied car­bon pig­ment. In the third stage, the car­bon pig­ment is used to make inks and paints. We have been ex­per­i­ment­ing with each stage for the last one year,” ex­plains Kaushik. Their flag­ship prod­uct, Air-Ink, has al­ready re­ceived ap­pre­ci­a­tion from artists who con­sider it thicker and bet­ter than tra­di­tional ink. Un­like tra­di­tional car­bon black inks, which are man­u­fac­tured by de­lib­er­ately burn­ing fos­sil fuels, Air-Ink is man­u­fac­tured by cap­tur­ing car­bon soot al­ready pro­duced by burn­ing of fos­sil fuels by ve­hi­cles.

This year, the project was hosted on the web­site of Kick­starter—a US-based pub­licben­e­fit cor­po­ra­tion that helps artists, mu­si­cians, film­mak­ers, de­sign­ers and other in­no­va­tors find re­sources and sup­port they need to re­alise their ideas—and it col­lected

19.3 lakh (three times the amount they in­tended to col­lect). “We just fin­ished our Kick­starter cam­paign where we of­fered AirInk for sale for the first time. We will also sell it on our on­line store soon,” says Kaushik. Around 30 millil­itres of ink can be made from 45 min­utes of tailpipe pol­lu­tion. In the last year alone, around 1,000 litres of ink has been pro­duced.

Cur­rently, Kaalink de­vices are de­ployed on a small scale in Ben­galuru, mostly on pri­vate ve­hi­cles and gen­er­a­tor sets. They cap­ture 95 per cent of PM pol­lu­tion with­out af­fect­ing ve­hi­cle’s en­gine per­for­mance. “We are talk­ing to sev­eral lo­gis­tics and gen­er­a­tor com­pa­nies for scal­ing up its use,” says Kaushik. The com­pany is work­ing on de­vel­op­ing dif­fer­ent types of inks and paints un­der the um­brella name, Air-Ink. The patent for this tech­nol­ogy has been filed and is un­der re­view. Once this is done, de­tails of test­ing and re­sults would be made pub­lic. At a time when pre­ma­ture deaths due to wors­en­ing air qual­ity are in­creas­ing, th­ese young in­no­va­tors are turn­ing some­thing harm­ful into some­thing use­ful.

(Left to Right) Pra­teek Sachan and Kusha­gra Sri­vas­tava of Chakr with their ink sam­ple. Anirudh, Nikhil and Nitesh—co-founders of Graviky Labs

Graviky Labs' Air-Ink used in a wide range of prod­ucts

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