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MIT 'spinoff' researchers turn car pollution into art supplies

Turning noxious particulates into safe ink looks like a beautiful solution.

The auto industry has worked for decades to strip particulates from automobile emissions, and today's new cars and trucks are actually incredibly clean. But even modern gas- and diesel-powered vehicles still emit carbon soot -- as do ships, factories and generators.

But what if those noxious particulates weren't just an undesirable and dangerous byproduct? What if they could be turned into a valuable material? After toiling away in MIT's Media Lab, the scientists at the "spinoff" Graviky Labs have created a way to do just that. Instead of letting black soot stain our clothes, buildings, landscapes and lungs, they've figured out how to capture it and turn it into art supplies.

Using their proprietary Kaalink devices, which fit onto automobile exhaust pipes and other soot generators, researchers collect particulate emissions and then use proprietary processes to purify them by stripping out carcinogens and heavy metals. They then mix the resultant black pigment with vegetable oil to create ink for markers and screen printing. The company says its Kaalink units have "cleaned" about 1.6 trillion liters of air so far.


Artist Kristopher Ho's Hong Kong mural is created with air pollution.

Graviky Labs

Graviky Labs sells the finished art supplies under its Air-Ink brand on Kickstarter. It claims that every 30-milliliter pen is made from about 45 minutes' worth of polluting emissions. The company plans to use the revenue to scale its collection operation and expand the product range to different types of paints.

Stripping pollutants out of the air while creating tools for artists? That's beautifying the world in two ways.