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  • 11.05.15

This Low-Tech Printer Ink Is Made From Pollution

Inspired by his youth in India, an MIT researcher removes soot from the air and fights the horrible printer ink industry.

Anirudh Sharma turns soot into printer ink. The MIT researcher mixes soot, oil and rubbing alcohol to make a low-tech inkjet printer ink that works in a regular print head. The project was inspired by his childhood in India, where belching pollution is a background feature of city life.

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While not intended as an environmental or political project, Sharma’s Kaala printer is both. Printer ink is one of the most expensive liquids you’ll ever buy, coming in at thousands of dollars per gallon. Soot is pollution, the black byproduct of burning, and the agent of damage to our cities’ buildings. Sharma remembers his home country, “The month of June there was full of sweat,” he says, “with unburnt smoke rising from unending tur-tur-ing of autorickshaws blackening our skin.”

In India, soot is also used “to protect you from wicked spirits by smudging kajal onto your eyes.” Kajal is a a greasy soot made by burning low-grade oil and depositing the soot onto something held over the flame.

Sharma’s ink collector works in much the same way. He uses an old computer cooling fan to suck the soot from a flame and collect it in a plastic tank. From there it’s injected into a regular HP C6602 inkjet cartridge. The cartridge is modified with larger holes to let the large particles in the ink through–this isn’t a fine-grade printing ink (yet). In the video, you see the ink cartridge hooked up to an Ink Shield, another neat project made by Sharma’s colleague Nicholas Lewis. The Ink Shield is an Arduino-based controller that lets you use the ink cartridge naked, just by swiping it across a sheet of paper.

Next up is an improvement to the soot collector. Sharma plans to suck the soot through a chamber that uses capacitive plates to filter out the carbon from dust in the air. “This principle is used in chimneys to reduce the carbon particles injected into the atmosphere,” he says, although Sharma is interested in harvesting the carbon, not just cleaning it from the air.

About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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