London designer uses 3D printing to produce air-filtering bicycle wheel

Kristen Tapping, an industrial design graduate from London South Bank University, is using 3D printing to produce a bicycle wheel capable of purifying air of pollutants.

The novel invention is called Rolloe Roll Off Emissions, and utilizes a series of sponges and filters to trap harmful emissions before releasing clean air back into the environment. Tapping claims the idea was inspired by the notoriously polluted streets of London – the Big Smoke – and believes the Rolloe will provide a new method of clean commuting for the bustling cyclist community.

Rolloe Roll Off Emissions. Photo via Kristen Tapping.
Rolloe Roll Off Emissions. Photo via Kristen Tapping.

Urban air pollution

The air pollution commonly found in many major cities is largely human inflicted, and has become a topic of serious concern in recent years. Not only is it linked with respiratory problems and shorter life spans, air pollution also has major implications for global warming and the subsequent effects on delicately balanced ecosystems.

To combat this, many of us have adopted cleaner methods of daily transport such as electric vehicles and bicycles. The bikes in particular are great for health-conscious individuals as they can also provide the recommended level of daily cardio simply by riding to work and back.

According to the European Cyclists’ Federation, the average bike is responsible for emitting just 21g of CO2 for every kilometer traveled. This consists of 5g for the manufacturing process and maintenance, and 16g for the calories burned by the biker peddling. Looking at the same figure for a motor vehicle: 271g of CO2 per passenger per kilometer, or 13x the emissions.

The Rolloe wheel with simulated airflow. Image via Kristen Tapping.
The Rolloe wheel with simulated airflow. Image via Kristen Tapping.

Rolloe Roll Off Emissions

The Rolloe wheel measures 600 x 600 x 60mm, and weighs about 1050g in total. Designed to fit on the front of a standard bike frame, it comprises two rims with fins made of ABS, and a central tri-wheel made of nylon – all of which can either be 3D printed or injection molded. The assembly works by funneling air through the interior cylindrical opening of the rim where three different types of filters are housed, before expelling the purified air via the exterior fins. It does this at a rate of 0.665m³ per kilometer.

The first filter, an eco-friendly loofa sponge, traps large particles and is washable for reuse. Next, the HEPA filter (also washable) traps pollen and some larger particles such as tyre and brake dust. The final hurdle is the activated carbon filter, which is capable of trapping individual gas molecules. This makes it great for filtering out volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and even odors. As it stands, the current prototype of the Rolloe requires these filters to be changed once a week, or every 250km, to maintain its efficacy.

With the design finalized, Tapping eventually intends to bring the product to market and predicts that a 10% market penetration in London alone could filter about 266,865m³ of air in a given day. The designer would also like to develop a rear wheel counterpart to double this number, one that can be 3D printed in weatherproof and sustainable materials.

The Rolloe assembly made of ABS and nylon. Image via Kristen Tapping.
The Rolloe assembly made of ABS and nylon. Image via Kristen Tapping.

The 3D printing of bicycle components is no new venture, and has resulted in a number of benefits for both producers and consumers. Just last month, engineering firm Sandvik collaborated with e-bike design consultancy GSD Global to 3D print titanium motor nodes for e-bikes. GSD, working with multiple bike OEMs, has found titanium parts such as motor nodes, which anchor the electric motor to the bike frame, can be difficult and costly to manufacture using traditional CNC methods. With an altered DfAM-centric design, however, these production costs can be halved.

Elsewhere, composite 3D printing specialist AREVO recently partnered with California-based Superstrata to 3D print the fully-unified carbon composite frames for its e-bikes. Using Arevo’s continuous carbon fiber 3D printing technology, Superstrata was able to eliminate the need for glues or welding to hold its individual components together while also producing a lightweight, durable frame.

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Featured image shows Rolloe Roll Off Emissions. Photo via Kristen Tapping.