Indian startup turns air pollution into ink

Diesel generators are often dirty devices. But what if you could turn the soot they puff out into something useful? A young group of engineers in Delhi did just that. And ships are next.

There are times when the air pollution in Delhi is so bad, you can barely see the hand in front of your face. In fact, the Indian megacity has some of the worst air quality in the world.

Arpit Dhupar knows that only too well. He grew up in Delhi and developed breathing problems at a young age. Now 25 and a mechanical engineer, he has taken on the fight against pollution by tackling diesel generators.

Read more: Delhi is choking on its smog

Such generators are among the biggest polluters in Delhi, as well as many other Indian cities. They’re often used for backup during power outages — a common occurrence in the city of almost 17 million.

“The problem with diesel engines is that they emit a lot of smoke from unburned diesel or soot, which is very harmful to people’s health,” Dhupar told DW. “That’s because it consists of very, very fine particles that cannot be filtered by your nose or your lungs and go directly into the bloodstream.”
Arpit Dhupar, cofounder of Chakr Innovation, an engineering startup from Delhi

Growing up in Delhi, Dhupar suffered the ill-effects of air pollution, so he decided to tackle the problem

Ink from soot

There are devices that filter out the particles. But the question is what to do with them after. They are often burned but the inventors at Dhupar’s Chakr Innovation had a different idea.

“In India, we have a lot of outside vendors that sell sugar cane juice and they use small diesel engines to run their crushers,” said Dhupar.

One day, he noticed how the exhaust from one of the vendors’ machines was turning the wall behind it black. “I began thinking, why not do that intentionally? Why not capture all the pollution and paint the walls with it?”

Together with some fellow engineering students, he took the idea to his college professors and other academics and all of them told him, if that were possible, someone would have done it already.

Dhupar was undeterred.

“You know, there is a saying: ‘The fool did not know it was impossible so he did it anyway,” he quipped. “We had nothing to lose, so we tried it anyway.”