Air pollution is one of the primary contributors to death and disease around the world, so limiting and capturing air pollutants is an excellent way to protect people’s health. If air pollutants could be recycled and repurposed into products that are usable by people, it would give people more incentive to capture air pollutants and turn a negative thing into something positive. A new engineering project has managed to do just that, capturing air pollutants and turning them into paints and inks.
The Air Pollutants that Harm People
Emissions from vehicles are one of the primary contributors to air pollution. Cars emit pollutants like carbon particulates, nitrogen dioxide, and volatile organic compounds which help to cause ground-level ozone.
“The EPA estimates that vehicle emissions are responsible for over 50% of all nitrogen dioxide emissions in the U.S., more than 30% of all VOC emissions in the U.S., and more than 20% of all particulate matter emissions in the U.S.,” says Camfil’s Kevin Wood, Vice President Sales & Marketing. (1)
These pollutants cause thousands of deaths a year around the world, and even more hospitalizations and missed workdays. The EPA estimates programs that reduce smog, soot and other forms of air pollution from transportation will prevent around 40,000 deaths and 34,000 hospitalizations annually.
Exposure to particulate matter pollutants, including black carbon, can cause aggravated asthma, decreased overall lung function, nonfatal heart attacks, and increased risk of death in people with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions.
Breathing in high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide can irritate the throat and lungs, aggravating conditions like asthma. Nitrogen dioxide is also thought to contribute to the development of asthma, and can potentially decrease overall lung functioning or necessitate a trip to the emergency room.
Volatile organic compounds are compounds that can react with other particles in the atmosphere to become toxic. VOCs can react in the presence of sunlight and heat to form ground-level ozone or smog. Smog causes difficulty breathing and seeing, contributes to hospitalizations, and exacerbates the greenhouse effect that causes global climate change.
How Turning Air Pollutants Into Paint Happens
The project to turn air pollutants into paints and inks was created by startup Graviky Labs. Regarding how turning air pollutants into paint happen, it is accomplished by collecting the emissions created by automobiles and combining the emissions with solvents.
“The Graviky Labs team recognized the need to reduce air pollution, especially in India where the team was based. India suffers from some of the worst air pollutions in the world, particularly in the city of Delhi,” says Kevin Wood, Vice President Sales & Marketing at Camfil. “A 2014 study by the World Health Organization established that the air in Delhi was found to contain several times more particle pollutants than the air of the notoriously polluted Beijing.” (2)
The team from Graviky Labs was inspired by earlier work that experimented with using soot from candles to create ink, wondering if the concept could be applied on a larger scale. Graviky Labs created a device capable of slotting onto the exhaust pipe of a cover or slipping over a portable generator, collecting all the soot and black carbon that is released by the burning of diesel fuel.
“The carbon-capturing device uses proprietary technology to capture the particulate matter, which must then be refined,” explains says Kevin Wood, Vice President Sales & Marketing at Camfil. “After the particles are captured, the soot is purified to remove any carcinogens or toxic heavy metals. Afterward, the purified carbon pigment is hit with unique solvents to create various types of paints and inks.” (3)
The carbon capture devices that Graviky Labs created are reported to be extremely efficient, capable of capturing the tiniest particles released by exhaust pipes. The Graviky team has managed to produce around 1,000 liters (264 gallons) of inks and paints over the past year. The team can wring about 30 milliliters of ink from around 45 minutes worth of captured pollution from tailpipes.
The Applications for Turning Air Pollutants into Paint
There are many different applications for turning air pollutants into the paint. The Graviky team has said that their products, dubbed Air-Ink, are extremely versatile and can be used in a large number of different ways.
Graviky’s inks are created to be long-lasting and have a similar consistency to a permanent marker. There are seven different grades or categories of Air-Ink, all formulated for specific uses. Air-Ink has outdoor paints, fine art paints, fabric paints, graffiti paints, and screen printing ink among others. Air-Ink is only available in shades of grey and black so far, but Graviky wants to expand to other colors of paints.
“Graviky is hoping to advance their current technology and reduce the costs of their Air-Ink products,” says Kevin Woods, Vice President Sales & Marketing at Camfil. (4) “They want to reduce production costs for both their carbon capture devices and the ink used for screen printing. Their ultimate goal is to have their ink usable in printer cartridges.”
The Graviky team is also hoping to upscale the number of tailpipe devices being used. Currently, the team has around 75 capture devices deployed, but Graviky wants to develop a system that could be included on many truck fleets. Delivery trucks coming and going from the same place could drop off their accumulated carbon very easily, or else gas stations could start creating “carbon banks.”
By turning air pollutants into the paint, Graviky Labs has taken something that harms people and turned into a product that helps people create, communicate, and express themselves. The team hopes to radically expand their operations in the coming years so that more people can experience the benefits of their products, which includes air free from pollutants.
While turning air pollutants into the paint is one way of combating air pollution, it is important not to underestimate how critical proper air filters in your HVAC system are for your health. Contact Camfil now to get information on filters and to purchase the filters that will protect your health from air pollutants.