An idea is not just a product
I had the idea as early as 2005. At that time the subject of fine dust pollution was receiving a lot of attention in the media and the motor car was quickly identified as the villain. As a car enthusiast I was unhappy about that even though I was naturally aware that motor cars did in fact partly contribute towards the high level of pollution. Therefore I thought about what could be done. With this in mind I asked myself the question: what do we use cars for? And I answered the question myself: to transport people, or things, but always for transportation. From that I concluded one would have to use the movement of the vehicle to collect the fine dust and I came up with the idea of using what I called an “ambient air filter”. That could be a small box under the bumper which with the aid of the air flow would simply filter particles from the ambient air.
Well, at first an idea is just an idea. A practical implementation is something quite different. But I was really quite taken with my idea and so I decided to pursue it. I did some research to see if someone else had already thought about such a solution, but found nothing. In parallel I prepared my patent because I had to have utility model protection to ensure that no one could steal my idea. At the same time, however, it very quickly became clear to me that although I understood a lot about cars, I was by no means a filter expert. My next step therefore took me to MANN+HUMMEL. The company was already known to me from my time when I worked as a mechanic and had a car dealership.
The filter products from that time remained in my memory as being positive and easy to work with. I managed to get an appointment with Manfred Wolf, then the responsible manager for filter elements. His first question was: “Do you want to use your patent to replace an existing filter in the car?” It was immediately clear to me that one wrong answer would be enough to send me packing. Luckily, I was able to tell the truth: “No, it will be an additional unit.” Mr. Wolf then offered me a seat. In the following discussion, I learnt more about the following necessary steps, and about the willingness of MANN+HUMMEL to promote ideas and try new things.
Influencing factors and studies
A feasibility study was the first step. For this I worked with the faculty for vehicle technology at Esslingen University of Applied Sciences, the Lohmeyer engineering office in Karlsruhe and naturally together with MANN+HUMMEL. We examined the working principle and also considered many important influences including the weather, flow, pressure, separation efficiency, aerodynamics and other points. The results of the calculations concluded that a filter size of ten square meters could achieve an annual separation efficiency of over 100 grams of fine dust. The air inlet itself would have to have a size of only 30 by 50 cm. Given that at least 40 million cars are on the road in Germany, this could theoretically result in a total volume of more than 4,200 metric tons. These were naturally only theoretical values, but the feasibility study showed that the principle could work.
A short break in development for the fine dust filter
Then something happened which did not exactly promote my idea, the concentration of fine dust went down, partly due to particle filters fitted to diesel engines and partly due to very favorable weather conditions. In addition, the media concentrated on a new environmental subject. CO2 was suddenly the problem and hardly anyone spoke about fine dust any more. In this period MANN+HUMMEL pursued other priorities and the project was put on ice for the time being. I was able to invest more time in my company TEAM KAMM Data which primarily offers small garages data collections for their daily work.
Yet I still wasn’t prepared to give up on my idea. I remained in contact with the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences and fine-tuned my concept. In 2016, we then together submitted our research project “Fine dust pollution” to the “German ideas award” organization. We were presented with an award in the category “Best environmental idea”.
I naturally also had to inform Mr. Wolf about this and managed to reach him in the US. He congratulated me warmly and promised to contact me as soon as he returned to Germany. When he contacted me he explained the current efforts of MANN+HUMMEL to address the subject of fine dust reduction at a holistic level. The then CEO Alfred Weber was personally committed to this approach. Therefore the company was developing a brake dust filter and also had an NO2 fine dust cabin filter. My idea would suitably complement these products. And from then on things started to happen very quickly. Since the beginning of 2016, under the guidance of Dr. Gunnar-Marcel Klein and his team I have been involved in many discussions, considerations and deliberations. Again and again new ideas were put on the table and developed.
Dust eater and StreetScooter
In the meantime, the fine dust eater vehicle is the talk of the town, and my idea has been developed to a finished product and is even able to suck in ambient air when the vehicle is in stationary position which naturally considerably increases the efficiency. I myself received a consulting contract and now work in a newly established team under the management of Johannes Stürner and Jan-Eric Raschke.
The next months seemed to fly by. My task as an expert was primarily to convince companies, institutions and organizations about the potential of our project. In this respect, I am often on the road presenting the project together with MANN+HUMMEL with aim of convincing decision-makers at all levels. I often speak to representatives from car manufacturers, political parties, automobile guilds and the media. We have now been able to celebrate our first success because StreetScooter, a subsidiary of the German postal service, the Deutsche Post DHL group, has decided to fit the fine dust filter to the undercarriage to a number of new electric delivery vehicles working for the DHL company. If, as we hope, the results of the tests are positive, StreetScooter plans to fit the fine dust filter to their vehicles in series production.
With perseverance, persuasion and patience
The cooperation with a big company with international operations also has other advantages. One simply learns to think outside of the box. While I, for example, mainly saw the application as suitable for cars, in the meantime we are thinking about stationary fine dust filters which could be positioned at junctions, in underground railway stations or on roads subject to heavy traffic. There are many possibilities and the technology is available. The only thing which is still missing is a willingness to take action. But we are working on the job – with perseverance, persuasion and lots of patience.