It all started one day when Arpit Dhupar, an IIT Delhi alumnus, and his friends were at a roadside stall, getting their fill of sugarcane juice. The cane crusher was running on a diesel generator but its emission was not visible because the vendor had attached an exhaust pipe to divert the carbon emissions to a wall.
For Arpit, it was a moment of epiphany. He noticed that the emitted soot had painted the wall black and wondered if it could be something bigger. “If it can colour the wall black, it can surely be utilised as paint,” he thought.
Taking the gauntlet, Arpit and his friends worked for a year to develop Chakr Shield, a device that transforms soot into ink and paint.
A Chakr Shield attached to a diesel generator
The device led to the founding of Chakr Innovations, founded by Arpit along with Kushagra Srivastava and Prateek Sachan, also engineers from IIT Delhi. Kushagra, CEO of the enterprise, says, “We are a team of 15 engineers from mechanical, chemical and textile backgrounds who have decided to follow our love for the environment and work hard to solve problems related to sustainable development.”
The word Chakr (or chakra) might remind many readers of the mythological Sudarshan Chakra, the deity Krishna’s weapon. It also means circle or cycle, which represents the philosophy and ethos for of their enterprise for the Chakr Innovation team. Kushagra says, “The pollution captured by our device is used for manufacturing of ink. In this way we convert discarded pollutants into a value-added product, thus completing a cycle.”
He adds, “Air pollution is one of the leading causes of death in India. According to reports by Greenpeace India, every year nearly 1.2 million people lose their life due to air pollution in the country. It also causes the loss of 3% of GDP. One of the main sources of this pollution is diesel generators. This motivated our team to work on the technology that not only reduces the pollution from DG sets but also in turn reduces the pollution caused in manufacturing regular ink.”
Despite the lack of stable capital for production and R&D, the team worked to launch their pilot project in 2016. Their early projects gained attention, and the team was chosen as the winners of the University of Chicago Urban Labs India Challenge, 2016, among a number of awards and grants.
To put it simply, the Chakr Shield converts soot into ink, which in turn is used for products like printer cartridges, paint and printed T-shirts.
Left: Chakr Innovation’s products; Right: A POINT demonstration in progress
Using the device, the diesel generator’s exhaust is first cooled down and then passed though special contours which capture soot particles in the air. For the Chakr team, this capturing mechanism posed one of their challenges. “The main constraint was to develop a capturing mechanism that has no negative effect on the working of engine,” Kushagra says. “It took months of trying and testing different mechanism to develop a new technology and fill.”
Once the particulate matter is captured, it is stored and processed into ink. Christened POINK, the ink can be mixed with the right medium to be used in textile printing, paper printing, paints, etc. Being made from waste, it naturally reduces the carbon footprint of ink pigment formation.
At its pilot stage, there are over 30 Chakr Shields in operation. Spread across across NCR, they have been installed in telecom industry towers, FMCG industry plants and real estate companies. “The devices have captured over 180 kg of particulate matter, which would have otherwise entered the atmosphere, polluting 900 billion litres of air,” Kushagra reports, adding the device can be used by anyone who uses diesel generators, including residential spaces.
The team estimates that their patented technology can reduce particulate matter emission from diesel generators by a whopping 90%.
Chakr Innovation’s business development team with samples of POINK
In their next stage of operations, the Chakr team hopes to transition towards building clientele and optimising production. “We have received interest from most industries on willingness to use the technology to meet regulatory requirement as well as for sustainability efforts,” says Kushagra. Another focus for the team is to introduce further improvements in their signature product.
Kushagra says, “The current technology can only capture particulate matter. We are working on the technology so that it can also capture pollutants like SOx , NOx etc. Also, we want to implement our device to other sources of pollution too, like chimneys, boilers and commercial vehicles.”
The startup has also partnered with BOSCH to aid them in product commercialization and further development. They are also working on applying the device for small scale industries which use furnace, with the plan to commercialize it over the next 3-4 months.
The team’s work is not always easy, but as Kushagra says. “No impact comes without facing and overcoming challenges,” he says. While increasing pollution levels leave many in despair, the Chakr believes that clean-tech ventures can make substantial difference. Using technology can aid the implementation of carbon emission norm, especially for widely used machines like diesel generators, and keep pollution levels in control.
Featured image: A grafitti by Indian street artist Daku, using polutant-based ink.