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Dell is using ink made from smog to print some of its packaging

The ink is made from the exhaust of polluting diesel generators.

Dell is using ink made from smog to print some of its packaging
[Source Photo: StMax89/iStock]

When the heat spikes in India, so does the use of diesel generators to run air conditioners and fans–and the exhaust from those generators adds to the country’s massive smog problem. But new technology is beginning to help: At some buildings in Gurugram, a city next to New Delhi, an attachment on generators captures soot to turn it into ink.

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[Photo: Chakr Innovations]
The Indian startup Chakr Innovations designed a device that cools the exhaust, making it easier to catch particles of soot, and then stores it in a solvent. Clean air comes out the other side, and the soot can later be used to make black ink. Dell, which is printing its packaging in India using the ink, is the first company to use it at a large scale.

Dell discovered the startup as part of its ongoing search for innovations “where we think there are opportunities for us to take promising, and in some cases nascent, technologies and then bring our playbook and our expertise in terms of what we do well for scaling technologies and our expertise on supply chain,” says Piyush Bhargava, a senior executive at Dell. The company is aiming for a circular economy model, where the materials it uses are renewable or recycled and can be used in a closed loop (Dell has also worked with mushroom-based packaging and collaborated with a designer to make jewelry from gold found in e-waste, and is currently scaling up a program to make other packaging from plastic that otherwise might have ended up in the ocean.)

[Photo: Dell]

The computer company tested the ink for performance–it works as well as regular ink–and for safety, and then began printing packaging with it in December 2017. It’s something that Dell now hopes to use when it prints user guides and other materials, and that it thinks could be used more broadly. “It’s not something that only has limited use and application,” Bhargava says. “It’s our belief, based on what we’ve seen with Chakr so far, that this has potential for industrial scaling, not just in technology applications or in packaging, but anywhere print is used.” The ink is also already in use to print on textiles.

As India works to fight its air pollution–14 out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India–the use of diesel generators will decrease. Already, Delhi bans the use of the generators when pollution reaches particularly bad levels (pollution also comes from multiple other sources, including an increasing number of old and dirty cars imported from other countries). But it’s likely to take several years before clean electricity, like solar, can replace diesel. Dell sees this as a viable solution until then.

“As is the case with ocean-bound plastic, we hope to eventually be out of the ‘pollution ink’ business and onto the next innovative solution,” says Bhargava.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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