On a break from his studies in the MIT Media Lab, Anirudh Sharma SM ’14 traveled home to Mumbai, India. While there, he noticed that throughout the day his T-shirts were gradually accumulating something that resembled dirt.
“I realized this was air pollution, or sooty particulate matter, made of black particles released from exhaust of vehicles,” Sharma says. “This is a major health issue.”
Soot comprises tiny black particles, about 2.5 micrometers or smaller, made of carbon produced by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Breathing in the particles can lead to lung damage, cancers, and other conditions.
A 2015 conference paper presented at a meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science estimated that in 2013 more than 5.5 million people worldwide died prematurely from air pollution. In India alone, air pollution has been linked to anywhere from 1.1 million to 1.4 million premature deaths over the past few years, according to various studies.
Back at MIT, Sharma set out to help solve this dire air-pollution issue. After years of research and development, Sharma’s startup Graviky Labs has developed technology that attaches to exhaust systems of diesel generator chimneys to capture particulate matter. Scientists at Graviky then treat the soot to turn it into ink, called Air-Ink, for artists around the world.
So far, the startup, which is commercially piloting its KAALINK devices for use on diesel generators across India, has captured 1.6 billion micrograms of particulate matter, which equates to cleaning roughly 1.6 trillion liters of outdoor air. More than 200 gallons of Air-Ink have been harvested for a growing community of more than 1,000 artists, from Bangalore to Boston, Hong Kong, and London.
“Less pollution, more art. That’s what we’re going for,” Sharma says.