08 June 2019

Interview with Graviky Labs, finalist of Smogathon 2017 Global Edition.

Kamila Knap, Smogathon: Your approach to smog is quite unusual – can you tell how you came up with the idea to use smog as a resource for ink? What kind of products Graviky Labs offers?

Nikhil Kaushik, co-founder of Graviky Labs: Anirudh came with the idea of converting candle soot into inks during his stay at MIT Media Lab. Later in 2014 we, Anirudh Sharma and Nikhil Kaushik, ganged to start Graviky Labs with the idea to develop a commercially viable lab where we can innovate outside the university ecosystem.

So we started working on two aspects of the idea – a) to develop technologies to capture particulate matter (soot) and b) develop technologies and solutions to use the captured particulate matter as the pigment for making industrial grade inks.

Currently we collaborate with several factories to recycle their carbon soot into AIR-INK, world’s first inks from air pollution. These inks can be used for art work, printing on apparel, paper, packaging etc. we are currently researching on using this inks for offset and other forms of machine based printing.

As far as I know, you are all Indian co-founders, but you met in the United States and now run business partly from US and India. Can you tell us about your early days and what made you move your company to India?

Actually, we met way back in elementary school, some 25 years ago and have been friends since then. Once Anirudh finished his masters course at MIT, he wanted to move back to India and as shared above, we decided to form Graviky Labs. In India we are not only closer to the problem ie Air pollution but also get the right environment to experiment, tinker and then come up with viable solutions around this problem.

Can you describe the process of ink creation?

Graviky Labs products

Graviky Labs products

The process is fairly standardized now: a) we analyse the soot samples on various parameters to determine its suitability for making different grades of inks; b) Once a sample is considered acceptable, it is passed through several processes to make it homogeneous for the ink making process; and c) once the pigment (soot) is ready for the ink making process, it is treated with other solvents, resins etc to make different grade of inks.

Did you ever face criticism of your product because of improving smog’s image? What are the reactions to your product?

Yes and no. We would not call most of it criticism. Often people raise doubt, which are often result of either incomplete communication ie our inability to explain the full impact of AIR-INK. From the day one, we have been very clear, AIR-INK is a solution only till we are burning fossil fuels. Once the renewable sources and electric vehicles become dominant, solutions like ours won’t be required anymore.

In a way, we are similar to recycling of plastic. While plastic is not a desirable product, till we find its alternatives, it is best that it is recycled. Same applies to soot.

What is the Graviky Labs business model?

Our business model is essentially about creating a circular economy around air pollution. So we collaborate with factories, collect their carbon soot (in the process, incentivize them for not throwing this pollution into water streams etc), and convert it into AIR-INK. AIR-INK is then sold to individual artists, designers, sustainability warriors, corporates who wish to use more sustainable form of printing. In this model, AIR-INK is the revenue side of the business.

What are main sources of smog in India? Is your solution suitable for other markets?

Primarily soot comes from usage of diesel, furnace oil and other fossil fuels. Also, crop waster burning, dust add up to the overall problem.
Our solution is suitable for various markets like China, Mexico, Eastern Europe, South East Asia, Afrcica among other.

What do you think is the next level of anti-pollution innovations?

Further improvement in consistency and reliability of renewable sources of energy. Improvement in battery technologies etc. is going drive the flight of people away from fossil fuels to renewable and sustainable sources of energy.

What are the company’s future goals?

We are looking forward to making AIR-INK the gold standard of sustainable black color for printing and painting uses across the world.

Any advice for those who are about to start their entrepreneurial journey?

Start whenever you feel like – don’t think too much about age or sex or location. Once you have the idea you believe in, give it your 100 percent.