Toasted Earth

GoRolloe: Kristen Tapping

September 29, 2021 Michelle Cunningham Season 1 Episode 18
Toasted Earth
GoRolloe: Kristen Tapping
Show Notes Transcript

This episode features Kristen Tapping, the Founder and CEO of GoRolloe.

GoRolloe is focused on merging clean air technology with the transportation sector. They are currently developing a device that attaches to bike wheels to filter air pollution simply using the rider’s motion and energy. 

Kristen and Michelle discuss the process of developing a new invention and the challenges of doing it in the most sustainable way, the problems arising from air pollution in our cities and how GoRolloe will have a major impact in bike-friendly cities.

Relevant links:
https://www.gorolloe.com/

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/toastedearth)

Michelle Cunningham:

Hello and welcome to the Toasted Earth Podcast, a show about founders, visionaries and environmentalists pursuing novel ideas in sustainability to, ultimately, save the earth. Im your host, Michelle Cunningham and for todays episode, we have Kristen Tapping, the Founder and CEO of GoRolloe. GoRolloe is focused on merging clean air technology with the transportation sector. They are currently developing a device that attaches to bike wheels to filter air pollution simply using the riders motion and energy. Kristen is a product design engineer and after noticing the pollution traveling around the streets of London thought why not use the movement from vehicles to filter air. She then won the 2020 Design Innovation in Plastics award for her idea to create a bicycle wheel with pollution filters and so kicked off the beginning of GoRolloe.

Kristen Tapping:

My training is design engineer or product designer. And I was actually I had taken I was doing my degree and I had taken some time off to work in car interiors. That was my final year studies and as a product designer you usually work by you're given a brief so kind of a challenge to solve it's usually really broad. So you come up with 50 to 100 solutions. So the brief was something like come up with something to work in urban environments to help the environment so I came up with lots of really bad ideas. And one of them was this idea of using vehicles to to use their energy to filter air because what's filtration it's movement and air movement and filters right it's really not that complicated. So it would be great to start off with a car truck but it's a bit tough. So I started off with a bike which I have at home and it was easier to prototype and that's what go Rolo got started I won the competition and then it got made public and what I usually do is just go on to the next idea because it's fun you know but there's actually got commercial lots of commercial interest so that's why I continued with it.

Michelle Cunningham:

Oh cool. Commercial interest by who, like people making bikes?

Kristen Tapping:

You know surprisingly no, it was cities with their city bikes, big retailers of sporting goods including bikes delivery companies that use bikes so yeah that, all over.

Michelle Cunningham:

I was kind of wondering when I first saw it on your website, I was like oh like who's going to end up being the end customer, is it an individual like me having a bike or is it some group that would buy it in bulk?

Kristen Tapping:

Yeah, it's a tough question and I thought oh no one individual wants to buy it but to the contrary I get lots and lots of emails of individuals and also cities at least in Europe they subsidize the price of bikes and some bikes accessories so that said as more citizens are encouraged to ride bikes so this could possibly fall into the same where you as an individual don't have to pay the full price.

Michelle Cunningham:

For the competition were you mostly just coming up with like the idea, kind of drawing a design? Or, did you actually get into building?

Kristen Tapping:

So I did some research on air pollution I had no clue about anything and then I did some some design but it was more aesthetic I had no clue what was the most efficient way of getting air into the device, what kind of filters are right, yeah there was there was a lot of flawed design at the beginning. What's tough is that that's what goes public, you know, your first like idea and so yeah, then then you don't want to show your developments because then people steal it but people still judge you on version one when you know of course there's a lot of work today and you can't tell them well no I fixed all that and now it's much better.

Michelle Cunningham:

Yeah, what was that process like from then from like the original idea to actually trying to make a prototype?

Kristen Tapping:

Well I did for V1 I did make a prototype, well probably actually v2, I did make a prototype, but it was during COVID and I didn't have access to my university so I literally got my hands on Amazon boxes. So I cut it up I got my hot glue gun, and I stuck it the prototype on on a fan. I just tested the theory of the design and it worked. So yeah, it cost me like $2.

Michelle Cunningham:

How did you even know how to do that? Was it similar to a filter just an air filter you might have in your house that you put on there and you just see if it starts like collecting stuff?

Kristen Tapping:

Well there's the actual filtration material, yeah, and then there's how does the air get in. So mine, at first I did it differently, but then I talked to a friend of mine who loves cars. He said what about using centrifugal force and they showed me a design that I could kind of work off of that uses this idea of centrifugal force, which I can explain what that is. And so then I thought about, okay, how can we integrate that into a wheel? Yeah, with all its limitations. And that's where I started really kind of marrying the concept and technology with all the limitations of where I was trying to put it.

Michelle Cunningham:

What's happened since then, like you're actually trying to bring this to market, right?

Kristen Tapping:

Yeah. Since then, I've done many, many, many prototypes a lot nicer this time than with 3d printing. And then I went on to make I don't know if you know what that says, but silicone molds and resin casting to make it a mini low run production. But it's a bit of an art form, and you don't get it right the first time. So it's been a bit of a learning curve on that one. But really, yeah, just trying to improve prototypes. The hard part is that not every bike is the same. They all have their different frameworks, different tire and rim sizes, different spoke heights spoke pitch. I mean, there's so many things, yeah. And then you have to think about how to optimize the design for assembly, the design for manufacture, the airflow intake, the filtration. So that's, that's always the battle, getting more air in, but getting filters that are strong enough to retain pollution and particulate matter and, and things like that. And then adapting to every single finding one design that adapts to a bunch of different bikes, which is probably the toughest. So that's been the journey so far here.

Michelle Cunningham:

Because this is going to be something you can retrofit on any bike.

Kristen Tapping:

Yeah. So at first I had wanted to do a wheel, an actual wheel. But that was just too structurally demanding, and very expensive as well to produce. So instead, I thought, okay, we're not just retrofit it to an existing wheel, whether it's a try spoke wheel, or a clincher wheel, which has all the spokes going. But this is a lot harder, because there's a lot of components. And they have the spokes have different pitches, as I mentioned, and there's just not as much space for the filters. So it's been a lot of different, different adaptations.

Michelle Cunningham:

Yeah, it sounds like a challenge. I mean, you don't even know how many bikes are out there. There can be a million different types of bikes. But I suppose you could approach it with getting like a few bikes and trying to make it work on those bikes.

Kristen Tapping:

Yeah, there's the mountain bikes, town bikes, electric road hybrid. So I think I went to the cap on the other day, and I tried to fit it on on to everyone and mostly fit.

Michelle Cunningham:

That's awesome. Did you go into the store and just start? Cool. Well, I'd love to talk a little bit about pollution and why it's such an important problem. What state are we in right now for pollution? Why should we care about this?

Kristen Tapping:

Yeah. So according to the World Health Organization, evolution is the number one threat to humans. I think the government's have a lot of focus on how air pollution affects the actual environment itself. But not, not many people understand that it's really bad for themselves as well. And so while co2 is not really a threat for us, it's more for the environment. And most of the attention is paid on co2, right? zero emissions, zero, net zero all that. But no, no attention is paid, for example, to particulate matter, which most people that I talked to have no clue what that is. And particulate matter is these tiny, tiny particles, they can be organic or non organic. So they can come from rubber, or they can be dust. And they're so small that they enter our airways and they settle into our lungs causing all kinds of illnesses such as it can be lung cancer, obviously, but it can also be coronary heart disease, it can be asthma for kids. And so the list goes on, right? So when you know our uncle dies of coronary heart disease, we never think no one ever says it's air pollution, but it could really wealthy. So right now, it's killing it. Think about 4 million people per year. And if you want to mentally picture that as the size of New Zealand, population wise, in a city like London, it's like smoking almost a pack of cigarettes every month.

Michelle Cunningham:

Just living there is like smoking a pack of cigarettes every month?

Kristen Tapping:

Yeah, so imagine for kids. Now, in India, it's like smoking a pack a day in Delhi, and there's a lot being done to reduce air pollution. But it's very slow. And like I said, it's focused on only one area versus particulate matter. There's a lot of tire emissions, right from tires. And there's no regulations that are placed on that. It's all about the exhaust.

Michelle Cunningham:

Okay, so that's like the one area that is being mostly focused on for reducing air pollution.

Kristen Tapping:

Well you would think that that will be but also also in the home, if you take your particulate matter measure, and when you're lighting up a candle, it's really bad. When you're frying your veggies. It's horrible. When you're doing a campfire, it's bad, or a fire inside your home as well. So it's not just outside, it's also inside your home. And I think because it's invisible people really have no clue of, of the air quality around them.

Michelle Cunningham:

Yeah, absolutely. I didn't realize it until we started having all these fires out here in California. Yeah. And then we started getting air filters around the house, because the smoke was so bad, like we needed something to filter it out. But they have those sensors on them. And now when there's no fires, I realize actually cooking sets it off every time it turns on high. Yeah, no, every time I'm cooking, and it's like, oh, and the filter's, like far away. It's like on the other side of the house and it picks up on this. I'm like, oh, wow, like I had no idea. So there's like health effects?

Kristen Tapping:

Yeah, we're really sensitive. We're pulling with sensitive little creatures.

Michelle Cunningham:

Well, it's probably one of those things to where it's hard really to measure the effects, right? Because they're probably long term and kind of invisible. What made you particularly interested in this problem?

Kristen Tapping:

Well, I've always been interested in in sustainability in general, it actually makes me mad when I see unstable things, even though I'm sure I do. I do bad stuff as well, you know, you're there. But I guess air pollution, I just, I had no clue how bad it was because it's invisible. So when I started research the problem, and I saw that so little is being done, apart from co2 reductions. I thought, wow, this is mad. And I think part of the solution is just making people aware of the issue, and given them the tools to know how to reduce their exposure.

Michelle Cunningham:

Let's jump back to the GoRolloe of filters. So how will this work for someone a bike rider, let's say, how will they use it? What will the experience be like for them?

Kristen Tapping:

As the wheel turns, the air does go upward. Yeah, because it's expelled outwards. So in an ideal setting, the air would go up to your face, but in reality because of aerodynamics, and because you're moving forward, the air just gets pushed back towards probably your legs or your your upper torso. So I would love to say that the air goes to your face, but I highly doubt that it does. So really, you're you're doing something good for the community. Ideally, also, you'd be rewarded or through at the same time building an app that will reward you per kilometer cycled through discounts at your favorite local stores, for example. So one, you feel good about helping the environment to you get some rewards. And three, you can just share it on your social media and feel like a good person. However, there is also an option to put it on your turbo trainer at home on your back wheel. So you can use it to filter the air in your home as well while you're spending. I can be home it can be Jim, it can be wherever you are really wherever they decide to integrate this.

Michelle Cunningham:

Oh, that's awesome. So it could serve kind of like an air filter for your house. Are you able to tell how much pollution particles I guess are being taken out of the air?

Kristen Tapping:

So I was running some tests in my garage. I lit up at one of those mosquito coils, which are apparently insane. As far as particulate matter emissions, no clue. But yeah, it went through the roof after 30 minutes, it was at 1000 instead of like six. Okay, so I did a test where I ran it at around, Oh, God, it was around 400 or something. And within the first 30 minutes, it had decreased by half at that levels. And then so what you'll see in most air filters and their efficiency is that if the pollution is really high, it will have a drastically good effect. And then when the as the as the pollution levels have lower, that curve will kind of balance out to a more sloped horizontal curve. So right now I'm trying to optimize to get the lower levels of pollution as well as the high levels which are working at the moment, if that makes sense.

Michelle Cunningham:

If someone was out riding a bike on the street, what what level of pollution would that be? Would that be like higher where it would be pretty effective or what do you need to get to the low ones to on the street?

Kristen Tapping:

It depends on the street, I would say I've been taking measurements all around different cities and stuff. I'd say it's around 10 level 10 particulate matter. 2.5 microns. In Paris. I did a couple times it was more like 20 So the idea is that you collectively with other people who are cycling, reduce air pollution by simply passing the air through filters. A bit like, Here, we have massive towers that filter air there in just one on one place. But they filter a lot of air and they pass it through various kinds of filters. So the same concept, but on a smaller, indivisible, individual scale and all around the city.

Michelle Cunningham:

Are those massive filters, is that like a government thing that they've set up to filter the air?

Kristen Tapping:

Well, private companies made them but yeah, the government pay them and install them and maintain them?

Michelle Cunningham:

Oh, that's really cool. I don't think we have that here.

Kristen Tapping:

I was speaking to a friend as we were walking around Paris today. And I was telling him about, he's from Seattle. And I was telling him about these towers. And he looked at me like if I was an alien, we don't have these.

Michelle Cunningham:

Yeah, I'm pretty sure we don't. They sound very cool. Sounds like they would be a nice addition to make our air much cleaner. Well, cool. What happens to your filters, once they're at like the end of their life, like, eventually a filter has to be changed, right?

Kristen Tapping:

Absolutely. So we don't make the filters. We're looking to partner with other companies who do make the filters. And so typically, in 99% of the air purifiers and cars and homes, you'll see heppa filter, you'll see a pre filter, have that and then activated carbon, unfortunately, the EPA and they activate carbon and not good for the environment. So the carbon is, how it's sourced and how it's produced. And I think how it's disposed as well, but the habit is literally just non recyclable plastic. Yeah. And if you can reuse it over and over again, it would be great. But it has a short, nice lifetime lifespan, think of maybe three, three washes on reusable heppa filters. So mostly, they just become trash. And that's a major, major problem, right? So we're looking to partner with sustainable filtration media companies. Unfortunately, they barely any of them exist. mad. So I think one of your questions is how can people from toasted Earth help? If you are developing some kind of indefinitely reusable filter or sustainable filter, please contact us. And we'd love to work with you. So right now we're looking at working with this new zealand manufacturer of sheep's wool. That's specifically manufactured for air filters. Oh, that's really cool. It's really cool. Yeah. So they make mass, they make crazy stuff for NASA. They make stuff for regular air filters as well. And by the end of the year, they're going to be 100%, biodegradable and natural. No polymers added whatsoever.

Michelle Cunningham:

Are they as effective as the other filters that aren't sustainable?

Kristen Tapping:

100% yet, you can watch their videos. Yeah, absolutely. They're really, really good. So the company if, because I think more companies should use sustainable filters. The company is Lana, CO, l. a, and a CEO. And yeah, they're really good.

Michelle Cunningham:

That's awesome. Yeah, one of my questions was for you, like, how are you approaching sustainability as a business in general? So it sounds like yeah, you're you're approaching it from a bunch of different angles, including materials going into your product.

Kristen Tapping:

So the filter is a huge for me test, I don't want to produce waste. So either a plastic that filter that's indefinitely reusable, or something that's can be washed, and then shredded and reused, or just biodegraded. And compositor at the end of life. That's really important. As far as the materials themselves for the hardware, it's a bit tricky because it's outdoors, a guest it has to resist various environments, extreme environments, it has to resist people kicking it, and trying to steal it. It has to be lightweight, and it has to be cheap enough so but we have found some, some materials like one is made of 50% recycled rubber tires. And then the other one is 80% recycled polypropylene, which comes from one source of contact lenses. Configure. So if you get plastic from one source, it's a lot easier to recycle and mix and make a strong

Michelle Cunningham:

Contact lenses. Wow, like I think they're so small how are they even collecting them.

Kristen Tapping:

I'm not sure if it's contact lenses or the contact lens packaging for Oh, yeah. And that might make a bit more sense. But yeah.

Michelle Cunningham:

So then the if you're getting these filters from the company in New Zealand at the end, what would the actual person who the bike rider, the person who has the filter, like what what will they have to do with the filter at the end?

Kristen Tapping:

What we don't want is a scenario where everyone is sending filters through the mail every two months. Because that causes a lot of emissions as well. And so instead, what we're trying to do is partner with local sporting goods retailers or bike shops, where people could go into those retailers and have their filters changed. And then the retailers sends back a big stack all at once. So it's a lot less back and forth shipping and a lot less nightmare for the customer as well. But they would probably have a year's worth of filters. So they don't have to go to the bike store every time as well.

Michelle Cunningham:

Would that go back to you and then you guys figure out what what to do with it?

Kristen Tapping:

Probably not us internally, at first, we'll probably be a third company. I'm trying to figure this process out at the moment. But there's companies out there that are set up to do the cleansing, and then the sorting and the shredding are different companies do different parts. But so there's companies set up to do this much more efficiently, then we could internally at first, but after a while, it would probably be best to do it internally.

Michelle Cunningham:

Cool. Well, what impact do you think GoRolloe could have in general.

Kristen Tapping:

So one is literally just filtering the air. So right now we're doing what's called CFD analysis, which is computational fluid dynamics. And the latest results were around one meters cubed, or just a bit under per minute that it could filter better could pass through the filters. So that's not too bad. But we'd like to get it up to maybe two meters cubed per minute, you know, double the impact. And what that would mean on a larger scale. Let's say that people bike about 15 kilometers per day, in if you had, for example, 100,000 bikes equipped with this, it would filter about 7,000,500 meters cube per day. So then then you could put two GoPros on your bike and then do the double. And between, at least in Europe, we have a ton of bikes. Between city bikes, and consumer bikes and delivery bikes and the E bikes, I think 100 some 100,000 is very conservative in a pretty big city. The other part is literally awareness. So the design is made so that you know what you're looking at. And it actually has, it can carry out branding, but also it can carry out messages like clean air London or clean at Paris, or CNET San Francisco. And really just making people aware that there is a problem and for them to identify what levels even just look into what levels of pollution is around them in their house outdoors and having a bit more correlating a bit more into the brain into what they what the problem is and how they can have a solution. And then there's literally scaling up so how can we expand go roller beyond a bicycle, that is cars, this trucks, there's mopeds, there's also the actual wind. Yeah, that's, that can that you can harness a bit like windmills. But you can combine that with air filters. So my personal mission would be to use sustainable filters, but also use zero energy. So that we're just harnessing existing energy and filtering it while it's going.

Michelle Cunningham:

Yeah, that's amazing. That'd be very cool. If you could apply this to a whole bunch of different things that are just moving That are already moving.

Kristen Tapping:

That are already moving. Exactly. One thing is that we CO2 is not really a target, because if we want to make enough of an impact with CO2, it has to weigh a lot. And on vehicles, that doesn't make any sense, right? Because then you use more energy. So we're really focusing on particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds.

Michelle Cunningham:

Got it cool. Well, you've been devel ping this product what's nex like what do you have left t get from where you are now to ctually bring it to market and h ving this be something that e could use, which I would d finitely try.

Kristen Tapping:

I've been developing and optimizing but now I'm in a position where I can partner with other companies who do their own bits very well to optimize the engineering, the design, the filtration, think design for manufacturing, and really take it to a much higher level of production output. And and so the the next step as far as people buying it is that businesses and cities want to pilot pilot trial it for this, they need some models, and then they stick it on their bikes and just kind of see how it goes. There's various ways of monitoring results. The one result is literally looking at the filters that before and after, but also do people like it does it stay on the bike properly? Does it slow you down? Does it make noise? Just lots of things like that, you know, does it is it good a product is it a good product? They want to buy at the end. So really optimizing the product is next and then getting models made for pilot trials, and hopefully then selling a bunch afterwards.

Michelle Cunningham:

What do you think are the challenges to taking those steps and then getting to that point?

Kristen Tapping:

One is literally the engineering is so complicated, because of all the constraints there is on a bike. And without its environment, it's it's been a bit of a nightmare, because it's been so hot. So that's a major challenge, too, is creating a low run production. So there's a step before, if you're doing a plastic plastic product, you do usually do injection molding. And to do injection molding, you need tooling, which is extremely expensive, something around 75,000, right? So you don't want to do tooling before, you're 100% sure that you have the final design and yet that you have buyers. So how do you provide parts for the pilot trials before injection molding? Well, there's various ways like 3d printing, but this can get quite expensive, and it's limited as far as size. And so that's where I think I've talked about earlier, we're looking at doing silicone molds and resin casting. And that's really the optimal, cheapest way to do it with high quality parts is just for this specific design. It's not easy, because it has fins and all this kind of

Michelle Cunningham:

And what's been your toughest challe ge to date?

Kristen Tapping:

Sure. So I think a lot of people see the final product. And it's amazing, and they love it. But they don't understand that there's been a, you know, three year journey leading up to that. So when your product gets featured in the media, or social media, but it's still in development, I think it's it's tough for people to understand that it's not at its perfect state yet. And you get a lot of people criticizing and saying I'll never work and not realizing that you're just in a your fifth iteration and you have like 100 more to go. So I think one of the challenges has been to have people understand that it is a work in progress, and to have some faith and know and not be too harsh on the engineers that are trying to get to the final point.

Michelle Cunningham:

Yeah, that's one of the tough things about building a physical product is you actually do have to, you have to do quite a lot before you can actually get it to the thing that you can sell. Being from software, it's a ifferent beast where you can ust change things, you know, on he fly, and people are kind of sed to it.

Kristen Tapping:

Yeah, you can show the prototype and it's, it works.

Michelle Cunningham:

I know you mentioned before that our listeners could help if they're developing a sustainable filter. Is there anything else they could do to help you guys be abl to get this to something we can use?

Kristen Tapping:

Yeah, you can subscribe to the website. It's literally www.go furloughed t o r o Ll e.com. You can email us with any ideas, any questions, I love talking to people. And your point of view from the consumer always helps. Yeah, that's it. Because then, if you're on the subscription, less than sometimes we email out questionnaires about consumer behavior, how much you would pay for the product, what kind of product you would like, you can test out the app once it's ready, give us your feedback. So I think that's probably the best way to interact.

Michelle Cunningham:

And once your GoRolloe filters ar available for people to buy about how much do you think wil cost

Kristen Tapping:

Yeah, so we're looking at offering it for around $40 for the 40 euros for the retrofitted version on the bikes. So it's really pretty affordable, maybe Max 50, but I think more around 40. And that's including the filters, then we're looking to make a version that's a bit more efficient, that will be available with a different kind of wheels. So you would buy the whole set. And that would be more around probably 125 for example.

Michelle Cunningham:

I mean, at that price point, you could be doing this in your home. And it's like actually cheaper than buying an air filter. Yeah.

Kristen Tapping:

Well and you know, the air filter you have you needed one in each room. So here you could have just another kind of filtration filtration system.

Michelle Cunningham:

Absolutely every year because we've een having fires now in Califor ia for three years, like na ty ones. And every year I e d up buying one more filter. L ke oh, we should have more, we eed more of these?

Kristen Tapping:

Are you changing your filters?

Michelle Cunningham:

I do. have it set up to automa ically send them to me so that I do it. But they are the HEPA f lters and I didn't actuall know that much about, like ho that was not super sustain ble. So that's really intere ting and good to know. Well, be ore we sign off, we like to e d every episode with a toast t the earth. What do you hop for our planet's future?

Kristen Tapping:

I hope that people realize that they can have an individual contribution by doing their part. So you don't have to be perfect. You don't have to be vegan and completely plastic free. But if you lower your meat consumption if you use reusable bags, if you quit smoking, you know ride your bike around and for short trips instead of your car, and everyone does a little bit and that would have drastic impact. And also look at how you're shopping and what you're buying and support the companies that do try to be a bit more sustainable and ethical.

Michelle Cunningham:

Thanks for listening to the show today. If you love this show, please leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts. You can learn more about GoRolloe by visiting gorolloe.com thats g-o-r-o-l-l-o-e dot com or visit our show notes at toastedearth.com for more links and details about this episode. If youre currently working on an idea, company, non-profit or movement to benefit the environment, send us an email at hello@toastedearth.com, we would love to hear from you. Raise a glass to the earth everyone, its the only one weve got.