Can we turn pollution into printer ink?

One of the things that I don’t like about pollution is how useless it is. I can’t do anything with it. 

Factories billow out smoke all day long, and all it does it harm. It goes into people’s lungs and causes all manner of respiratory conditions. 

My belief changed, however, when I discovered a fascinating project from MIT. Scientists there have announced that they are working on a way of turning pollution into printer ink. 

The moment I heard about this, my ears pricked up. For years, I’ve been upset about the price of ink cartridges. Companies charge an excessive amount of money for their ink. 

Now, though, MIT might have an ace up its sleeve. The institution says that it wants to capture soot from the air, clean it, and then use it in printer cartridges. It’s a remarkable idea. 

MIT’s Eco-Friendly Printer Ink Solution

MIT’s idea is the brainchild of post-graduate student Anirudh Sharma. 

Sharma was at a conference in India when he saw pollution particles accumulating on his t-shirt. Instead of rushing to the laundrette, an idea began to emerge. Perhaps he could capture these particles and put them into a printer cartridge.

I thought about the idea and realized that it made a lot of sense. Fossil fuel power plants burn fuels to create heat to produce electricity. One of the byproducts is ash – or carbon particles. 

Ink manufacturers around the world use the same chemical in their inks. All they do is burn some material, collect up the ash, and mix it with solvents. 

Sharma’s genius, in my view, was to connect the dots. He saw that I could get my printer ink from the atmosphere just as readily as I could from a manufacturer. 

Carbon-based pollution in the air is one of my big concerns. I continually breathe in small particles every day and which get into my lungs and cause damage. 

In Sharma’s world, however, this might not happen. I could walk outside and breathe the pure air because soot collectors were taking all of the particles out of the atmosphere for ink production. It would be a kind of miracle economy.

Is Printer Ink Made From Pollution Safe? 

My first question when I heard about the project was, of course, whether it was safe or not. While ripping carbon particles from the atmosphere sounds like a good idea, are they safe to use? 

It turns out that MIT has thought about this. They will clean the soot before putting it into ink form. Thus, I won’t have to worry about my colleagues or me getting sick. 

How Will It Work? 

The next question I had was, “how will it work?” How can you take soot from the atmosphere and make it into something valuable? 

The solution isn’t what I thought. I had imagined giant collectors that would capture soot from the atmosphere like carbon capture and storage. 

But that isn’t what the team envisions. Instead, they’ve decided to go to the source of a lot of air pollution in developing countries: diesel fumes. 

Sharma and MIT designed a device that fits a car exhaust. The device collects the soot and then stores it. The resulting material can then be mixed with other chemicals to make new ink. 

When I first came across the idea, I thought that it was just a gimmick. But then when I thought about it some more, it made a lot of sense. 

Making carbon from scratch is actually expensive. Ink manufacturers usually have to burn something first to make the carbon particles. Whatever they burn goes to waste. 

Burning diesel in an engine for energy also involves waste – that of the soot. But Sharma’s invention changes this.  

It makes sense to me to combine the two: the energy from diesel with collecting the soot. I want the materials that society uses to have as many uses as possible. 

Does It Make Economic Sense?

Companies like are doing an excellent job of bringing the cost of ink down. But I am always up for new ways of keeping costs low. 

Sharma and the team now sell markers that you can buy using their technology. The pens perform surprisingly well, given where the ink comes from. 

In the future, Sharma and co-workers want the idea to be economical. They imagine a situation where fleets of vehicles would return to a depot and deposit material in a carbon bank. 

The fleet owner could then sell diesel pollution in bulk to ink manufacturers, making a bit of money on the side.