Here’s the Dirt on Printing With Pollution

[Anirudh] and his friends were sitting around reminiscing about India. In particular, they recalled riding around in auto-rickshaws in stifling heat, watching their skin turn black from the exhaust. They started thinking about all of the soot and pollution in crowded cities the world over and wondered whether the stuff could be re-purposed for something like printer ink. That’s how they came up with their soot/pollution printer.

They created a soot-catching pump which they demonstrate with a burning candle. The pump mixes the soot particles with rubbing alcohol and an oil substrate and sends the ink to an HP C6602 inkjet cartridge. They used [Nicolas C Lewis]‘s print head driver shield for Arduino to interface with the cartridge, turning it into a 96dpi printing head that uses only five pins.

[Anirudh] and his friends plan to design a carbon separator using charged plates to capture the soot particles from pollution sources and filter out dust. Be sure to check out their demonstration video after the jump.

Update: In response to [Hirudinea]‘s comment about mining the carbon from cars, [Anirudh] is now looking for collaborators (tinkerers, filmmakers, DIY enthusiasts) to move forward with the idea of re-purposing carbon. Email him at


  1. Now that’s a hack.

  2. i do not see how the soot gets stuck in the plastic tube :S

  3. r4k says:

    I’d be willing to bet that the exact same result could be had with alcohol alone.

    • Eirinn says:

      Spraying alcohol alone or? Invisible ink is uh… not really ink?

      • r4k says:

        injket cartridges use a filter material which would almost certainly filter out the carbon particles. The alcohol is merely extracting ink left in the filter material.

        Inkjet ink is actually a dye, and I am fairly certain that if any soot particles actually reached the printhead they would clog it instantly.

        • Kaspky says:

          Except black ink, which is a pigment and made of fine particles.

          • Kaspky says:

            Although some cheaper printers use three colors mixed to make black. I have a dell that mixes colors and a canon that uses pigment. When you drip pigment ink in a glass of water you can see the particles.

        • Chris C. says:

          Both Canon and Epson (and probably others) make high-end color inkjet printers that exclusively use pigments, which is claimed to improve quality and fade resistance of output, and is often used for giclée (digital fine art prints).

          With these, clogging is a problem if the ultra-fine suspension of pigment particles settles out and clumps. Of course, these are fancy high-resolution printheads, with small orifices. Some of the lower resolution printheads, especially older ones, can be abused in ways never intended and just seem to keep on going. Plus candle soot, if I recall, is pretty fine and consistently so. So it’s possible this really is successfully printing with soot as described.

  4. macona says:

    Electrostatic precipitation is no big deal but expecting it to separate dust and soot is not going to happen. Precipitators charge any particle and make it stick to the plate. Really does not matter what it is, solid or liquid mist. We use precipitators at work to pull some of the machine coolant out of the air.

  5. PhilM says:

    Come on guys, it’s encouraging!
    I love the idea.

  6. medix says:

    Definitely awesome. It’s nice to see a change from the usual on here..

  7. verzion5 says:

    Would it be possible to installpublic inkjet cartridge charging stations near roads with heavy traffic?

  8. Beavis says:

    Darwin Award in the making !

    Let’s see, open flame + alcohol + fabric curtains = fire! fire ! fire ! uh huh uh huh huh huh

  9. TacticalNinja says:

    Imagine selling carbon build up from your car’s exhaust.

    • Hirudinea says:

      Nah, the idea is to set up solar powered collectors on the streets and “mine” the carbon from cars, if you can find a market for it you’ed be a millionaire!

  10. gartral says:

    hooray! new hashtag! #print4good lol

  11. justice099 says:

    Great idea. Not because it will work, but because the “Gloabal Warmists” are a very gullible crowd and it’s easy to sell snake oil to them.

    • Whatnot says:

      Except that nobody ever claimed it’s soot that causes global warming, but I think everybody will find it makes you cough and clogs your airways and leaves a dirtlayer on stuff.

    • Greenaum says:

      You realise “global warmists” comprise pretty much every scientist in the field, right? If I were as stupid as you I at least hope I’d have the dignity to not act so smug about it.

  12. tekkieneet says:

    >Basic India ink is composed of a variety of fine soot known as lampblack, combined with water to form a liquid.
    >Lamp black was traditionally produced by collecting soot, also known as lampblack, from oil lamps.

    This is modern day Indian ink made in India. :) Not sure what other stuff are in there in the incomplete combustion soot you are collecting.

    >Carbon black is considered possibly carcinogenic to humans and classified as a Group 2B carcinogen, because there is sufficient evidence in experimental animals with inadequate evidence in human epidemiologic studies.

  13. ed says:

    I am definitely not criticizing this hack, but I wanted to point out that soot is carcinogenic. Please be careful.

    • Greenaum says:

      I’d guess it’s much safer than a barbecue, or a coal fire. Soot cancer is more of a worry on industrial scales, it’s not like it’s asbestos or PCBs. The other, bad, kind of PCB I mean.

  14. iChop says:

    Really, what’s with the haters here!!!
    It’s an original idea that can be refined and researched!! Proof of concepts rarely exactly match the final product.
    If you find it to be such a lame hack, then you probably don’t consider (or shouldn’t) yourself a hacker or a maker, and need to go read other sites…
    GREAT WORK guys who created this, keep it up!!

  15. Whatnot says:

    How about compressing it into diamonds? There’s a another angle.

    Or buckyballs/tubes.

  16. Anirudh says:

    Does anyone want to Collaborate and take this forward? :) Please write to me at

  17. Dox says:

    Actually this is how we made tattoo ink in prison :/

    Someone would burn grease covered toilet paper in the locker under the bunk, wipe out all the soot and mix it with baby oil usually.

    Remember kids: say no to drugs, prison ink, and hepatitis

  18. Eddie says:

    FYI- this is kind of how they make ink in prison. except they mix the sut with shampoo or some other liquids like bay oil. which technically is a hack when you think about it. I like prison hacks now that i think about it.

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