Cars, factories, oil refineries, and mines can all give off harmful substances that pollute Earth’s water, air, and soil. Scientists, though, are coming up with a creative use for these toxins—they’re turning them into paint. Their efforts not only give artists a new way to create with color but also help clean up the environment.
Fresh From the River
Ohio has many abandoned mines that have leaked poisonous metals into nearby rivers and streams. Plants and animals can no longer live in the toxic waterways. But two Ohio University professors are breaking new ground by turning the pollutants into paint.
John Sabraw, an art professor, and Guy Riefler, an engineering professor, collect water samples from local rivers and streams. Then, in a laboratory, they put the water in tanks that aerates—or adds bubbles—to it. This separates the water and pollutants, making them into a sludge that consists mostly of the chemical iron oxide. The pair combines this pigment (colored substance) with chemicals used to make plastics. The result: acrylic paint.
Sabraw uses the paint in his artworks, which have an environmental theme. The team hopes to someday sell the paints commercially.
Captured at the Source
In India, a company called Graviky Labs has a similar idea to Sabraw and Riefler. Scientists at the company designed a device, called a Kaalink, that attaches to the end of a car's tailpipe. It catches the car’s sooty exhaust, created by burning gasoline, before it’s released into the air. The pollution is used to create paint, named Air Ink.
The scientists collect the grimy contaminants from the Kaalink. They treat them in a way that makes the resulting substance nontoxic and safe to use. Then they convert it into a pigment and combine it with oils and pressurized gas. This process creates a spray paint. Local artists recently used the new paint to create murals in Hong Kong, China, which like India has a serious air-pollution problem.