Acts of Impact

How the 'TU/ecomotive' Student Team Created a Car That Cleans The Air While Driving

September 29, 2022 Nicholas Hill Season 1 Episode 26
How the 'TU/ecomotive' Student Team Created a Car That Cleans The Air While Driving
Acts of Impact
More Info
Acts of Impact
How the 'TU/ecomotive' Student Team Created a Car That Cleans The Air While Driving
Sep 29, 2022 Season 1 Episode 26
Nicholas Hill

Today we interview Nikki Okkels. Nikki is an industrial design student of the Eindhoven University of Technology and member of the TU/ecomotive student team, which has just created ZEM, a new car that cleans the air while driving. We’ll talk about why this technology is an important step for our environment, the filter they’ve created to remove carbon from the air, and the challenges they faced in creating this exciting new car.

To learn more about the TU/ecomotive team, visit:

To learn more about the show, view transcripts, and more visit:

Special thanks to Nikki and the TU/ecomotive team. Music by Alex Grohls.

Show Notes Transcript

Today we interview Nikki Okkels. Nikki is an industrial design student of the Eindhoven University of Technology and member of the TU/ecomotive student team, which has just created ZEM, a new car that cleans the air while driving. We’ll talk about why this technology is an important step for our environment, the filter they’ve created to remove carbon from the air, and the challenges they faced in creating this exciting new car.

To learn more about the TU/ecomotive team, visit:

To learn more about the show, view transcripts, and more visit:

Special thanks to Nikki and the TU/ecomotive team. Music by Alex Grohls.

Nicholas Hill  0:00  
You're listening to acts of impact the show where we interview those who are making a positive difference in the world around us. I'm your host, Nicholas Hill. And today's guest is Nikki Okkels. Nikki is an industrial design student of the Eindhoven University of Technology, and member of the TU/ecomotive student team, which has just created Zem, a new car that cleans the air while driving. We'll talk about why this technology is an important step for our environment, the filter they've created to remove carbon from the air, and the challenges they faced in creating this exciting new car. Let's get started.

Nikki, welcome to the show.

Nikki Okkels  0:53  
Thank you. Thank you so much for the invitation. 

Nicholas Hill  0:55  
Yeah, it's so fun having you here. This is such exciting news. And I know for starters, that Zoom is not the first car that your team has made. Could you maybe tell us just a little bit about TPU Ecomotive kind of the history and what the goals have been of the team and in creating these cars?

Nikki Okkels  1:17  
Of course, yes, a tee week motive is one of 5453 student teams from the Eindhoven University of Technology. And were the team that has created seven cars in 10 years. So is m is our seventh car already. And first, we started out with the shell Aiko milestone, which is a race where you have to make the most efficient car. So you can travel the most distance on one liter of biofuel. After our third car, we didn't think that was the most interesting thing. And we decided to make more concept cars. And now we are creating concept cars, the way we like it. And we this year we presented ZEM.

Nicholas Hill  1:58  
What are some of the other cars that you've done? Or have? Has there been one every year or what's been kind of the history of that?

Nikki Okkels  2:05  
Yeah, in the beginning, it was every year. So we had to join the Shell Eco motto, and afterwards, I think we did one every year and a half. We did Luca, Luca, it's a card it's fully made out of waste. And all the body panels are made from ABS and that's recycled plastics that can be recycled again. And a car before was no no, that's our fifth car. And that's made from recycled materials as well. And the entire lifecycle is taken into account. So every year to Team exists of around 20 to 35 people. And these people may have a car within a year or a year and a half.

Nicholas Hill  2:42  
That is so cool. So it sounds like the theme of the cars are more environmentally friendly. You said that the Luca was made entirely out of waste. So is is the goal pretty much the same every year, or does the goalposts change? Is it all about kind of helping the environment? Or are there specific targets you're trying to hit?

Nikki Okkels  3:05  
Yes, I think it's, we're all going for the same vision. So our slogan is shaping the future sustainable mobility together. And I think every year we aim to reach this goal. But then in different ways. So this year, we saw we really focused on the co2 emissions, we know there's 1300 tons of co2 emitted every second and we would know this is way too much. So we wanted to solve this problem. And we think that we have achieved it in quite some time already. Because we only took I think, seven months to build this car.

Nicholas Hill  3:37  
That's an incredibly fast turnaround time. I don't I've seen a lot of projects that last seven months, having a car at the end of it is pretty cool. Do you remember what the specific was there? Like a specific challenge for zoom, you said it was about reducing co2 emissions.

Nikki Okkels  3:55  
Yes, that was our main focus. And we wanted to make the entire lifecycle also more sustainable. So we're not only focusing on co2 emissions while driving, for example, but we're also looking at co2 emissions, while in the process of building the car. So this year, we chose to 3d print our car because we can 3d print with recycled materials and we can 3d print with the power of solar panels. And in this way, we can make this process so much more sustainable. And way less co2 will be emitted.

Nicholas Hill  4:24  
Did you say you can 3d print with the power of solar panels?

Nikki Okkels  4:28  

Nicholas Hill  4:29  
That's pretty cool. 

Nikki Okkels  4:30  
Yes, it will just be powered on the solar panels laying on the roof of the company does printing our our monocoque in this case.

Nicholas Hill  4:38  
So does that mean that the entire car or not the entire car, but does that mean that like pieces of the car are built from the 3d printer, you're like printing them out?

Nikki Okkels  4:48  
80% of them is 3d printed

Nicholas Hill  4:50  
That's really cool. 

Nikki Okkels  4:51  
Yes, that's some. That's some facts. Yes.

Nicholas Hill  4:54  
So in terms of making ZEM closer to a more kind of carbon friendly car, not only is the creation of the car and the process, more carbon neutral, but then also the car itself has some really cool abilities to remove carbon from the air. And I'm wondering if we can maybe talk about that really quick. ZEM has this really unique ability to remove carbon from the air while it's driving? How does it accomplish that just that maybe a high level? 

Nikki Okkels  5:31  
Yes, so we have a filter built into a car. And if air flows through that filter, if you can, if you see pictures of our car, you can see a grill on the front, it's a very big grill, and behind the grill behind the wheel behind the headlights, there's a filter that removes you to up to out of the air while driving. So it really captures the carbon and it will let the clean air go through the filter. 

Nicholas Hill  5:55  
How well does it do that? If ZEm is driving around? Is it? Is it capturing? Like a lot of carbon maybe helped me to kind of put that in perspective? How would it compare to like, a tree? Right? I know that trees remove carbon from the air, do you have any comparisons?

Nikki Okkels  6:16  
Yes, we do. It is I think 110 of what a tree can do in a year. But that's because we're in the concept phase. And we really have to develop this filter more. And that will be done also is there as a spin off coming from our from our students, you know, we'll focus more on making this co2 filter more efficient. So currently will only only do 110 of what a tree can do in a year. But that's also one gram per 10 kilometers. So that's quite something.

Nicholas Hill  6:44  
Yeah, that's really cool. So if we have, I mean, I'm trying to think like, how many cars are even on the road? If we have billions of cars driving millions of miles, then you start to see those numbers kind of add up, right?

Nikki Okkels  7:00  
Yes. And I think that's also part of our vision, because of course, we kind of reverse climate change on our own, we have to do it with each other. And if I drive a car that cleans co2 out of the air while driving, and you do as well, now we do it together. And we'll eventually make a bigger impact together. And I think that's one of the strong points of to Ecomotive, we don't focus on doing this alone, we really want to implement this filter to as many cars and other vehicles as possible. We're looking at trades, we're looking at aeroplanes, but we still have to look at what the possibilities are, because it will add some drag to the car, it will add some resistance, some air resistance because it has to float through a filter. But we're still looking at the possibilities because we know when we do is together with every movement that is already there on the planet, that we are able to remove pretty much carbon out of the air.

Nicholas Hill  7:51  
I actually wanted to talk about something that you just said, which is, what is the effect on a car that has this filter? So you said it adds a little bit of drag to it. So I would guess that maybe the gas mileage is like reduced a little bit? Or are there other kind of negative effects that you've seen with having the filter on?

Nikki Okkels  8:12  
Yeah, it's an electric car. So it will just drive a little less distance. But this is minimal, but it will be like a mile or less on the entire ability of the batteries.

Nicholas Hill  8:25  
Yeah, so just a completely negligible amount. 

Nikki Okkels  8:27  

Nicholas Hill  8:29  
I wonder if I'm, if I'm driving a gas powered vehicle, which is not as carbon friendly, of course, could this filter be applied to a gas powered vehicle to at least offset some of the carbon that it's creating? Yes,

Nikki Okkels  8:46  
it could for sure. Also, we're thinking because the big trucks, of course emits a lot of carbon, and we're thinking about implementing it on them. Or if your car drives behind a huge truck that emits so much you to, why wouldn't you take that opportunity to catch the carbon directly out of the truck? If you drive behind the truck, then you'll directly captured it. That's carbon.

Nicholas Hill  9:08  
That's your like, you're like following a truck cleaning up after it kind of that's, that's funny. Let me ask you. So So let's talk a little bit about the creation of ZEM. So you did this and seven months. And as part of the creation of it, you're 3d printing materials, you're having to go from design to execution. Can you tell me what were some of the challenges that the team faced? Were there any major roadblocks or parts of the project where you said, Wow, this is frickin difficult and I don't know what to do next. Or like what were some of the friction points there?

Nikki Okkels  9:47  
I think the main one for me which I encountered was that talking with the rd w that is the company that has to like let your car go on the road. And because We are so innovative, and we have 3d printed 80% of our car. They don't really like the fact that we've 3d printed 80% of our car, they don't want it to be on the road because they cannot test it for safety yet. That's because we want this car to be finished in seven months, we started off as a member. That's not seven months until July. But we only really started building since I think, I think it was March, April. So somewhere between there there, we also encountered a problem that the 3d printer couldn't exactly do what we wanted, we wanted to sprint a mono caca one piece. And we had eventually printed in four pieces. So like katako, because I liked the code, and we had the plastic welded together. So because we're so innovative, there are some problems that we encountered during the process that are just there. Because we don't follow the normal rules are we don't follow the bad those normally followed while building a car.

Nicholas Hill  10:59  
So you would not recommend someone listening, try to 3d print their own car is what I'm hearing, that's probably a pretty difficult task.

Nikki Okkels  11:07  
It is difficult if you want your car to be on the road. But I think next year, we have a new team that will be building a car as well. And I think they will be implementing some technologies that we've implemented this year as well. So let's say for the 3d printing, they can 3d print parts of their car as well, let's say the body panels. And they can use this technology again, we've already talked to already W earlier or go to Germany where it's a little easier for us to get approved to go on the road. So there are many things that we can circle around so we can eventually go on the road because we have made road legal cars before.

Nicholas Hill  11:44  
Yeah. And speaking of going on the road, I know that your team has been on the road for the past couple of weeks, just kind of showing this to people. Can you tell us a little bit about that? What are some of the cool kind of stops that you've made along the way?

Nikki Okkels  11:58  
Yes, we're currently so in the USA, I think I'm in Cornell right now. And and yeah, it's really cool. It's so pretty here. It's my first time in the USA. Yeah, it's we're touring around with our student team. Where would 13 Students split up into groups currently, what is in Washington right now. And we are with nine people in Carmel. And yesterday, for example, we went to Fresno to visit the University. And there were all these high school kids that went to that university to use their free Saturday as the day where they could talk to us, for example, and follow other workshops in the area of sustainability. And that's what we also want to do with you. We can motive we want to inspire the next generation and we want to see who they are. And that's so cool. And then we also met the Queen of the Netherlands. Wow. Yeah, we did on the seventh. So I think that was Wednesday, we got the chance to meet the Queen of the Netherlands at Stanford University. She was on a trade mission. And we couldn't be part of the trade mission as presenting our Carter.

Nicholas Hill  13:04  
That's so cool. Have you have you had the chance to drive ZEM?

Nikki Okkels  13:09  
No, I haven't. Unfortunately. 

Nicholas Hill  13:12  
I wonder I'm like, is it like a? Is it like a golf cart? Is it like? Because I think it'd be really interesting to drive it.

Nikki Okkels  13:20  
Yes, it has been driven around. Because like when we had our final presentation, it was on the 22nd of July, and it was driving in the night of the 21st and 22nd. So they made it drivable the night of the presentation. And I was building up the entire presentation and I didn't have the time to check out what they were driving. But then I saw the car driving towards the podium where it should be on and I was like so happy because it was finally driving.

Nicholas Hill  13:45  
I was about to say that's like fixing software like right up before it ships. You're like, Okay, we gotta get this thing driving. It's going on the show. Yes. So you said there might be a new team working on a new car next year. Is that right?

Nikki Okkels  13:59  
Yes, there will be there already is a new team. And they're thinking on their concept right now.

Nicholas Hill  14:04  
I imagine it would be kind of along the same lines. I guess my question is, what's what do you think is next for ZEM? What is the next step for kind of bringing this technology forward and continuing down this path?

Nikki Okkels  14:20  
Yes, I think for the next team, one of their first things they should do is talk to RTW because they are the one making new rules for having our road legal car. And if we are working together with them closely, we can ask for every aspect of the car, if this can go on the road, especially with the 3d printing of the car, if we are implementing that, again, if they are implementing that, again, they should talk to the RTW to see what they think and what can happen with the 3d printing. Because also because we're making a concept car, we're only making one that's also the problem with them. We don't want to crash test our car. It's only one we have made simulations and whatnot with It turned out perfectly. But we don't want to drive them into a wall. And I think that's something we'll still encounter all the time. But we have made road legal cars before they have a number plate, they can go on the road. But they already though we will will play a big role in making a road legal car. And then, for the new technologies like 3d printing, we had to do with them four times now for a monocoque. But for example, the body panels were printed in one time, and that wasn't amazing. One of the companies seed in Delft helped us enormously, they were amazing. I think, just for the 3d printing big parts, we'll just have to look into it further with engineers, it is very much doable, and it's very fun to work on. But it will just take time, because we're one of the first doing it. And that's something we don't always have the time because we are building a car in here. But that's the things we have to work on it because we can choose our own time frame of the project. But if we just wanted to push the industry and ourselves, because we have the the vision that if 35 students can do it in a year, why isn't a big company doing it with like, many more engineers?

Nicholas Hill  16:12  
I am just curious, from a personal level, how was it for you kind of working on this project and getting to be a part of this?

Nikki Okkels  16:20  
It was amazing. Yes. I joined in December of last year, and I didn't know what wasn't happening. I just didn't want to graduate when I was 20. So I was looking for something else. I said in the beginning hour, I'm an engineer and industrial design student. But this time, I was not really into the design of the car. I'm the External Relations Manager, which means I do talk to press, I host social media, I host the website. I love to write blog posts on the website, and be in contact with other external parties. And I also did education with it. So I go to schools and stuff is what I I love to do. And the project was crazy in December, I was starting up pretty easily and I was getting to know the partners and everyone. And then everything started then I think it was March when we are monocoque was delayed because of we are so on top of the industry that we had to try everything out. And we had to print our monocoque, I think three or four times. So it had a delay of a month, month and a half. So we only could start building at the end of March of may, or may. So it was a very short period of time. And I saw everyone stressed out and I was there behind my laptop, getting everything working, and fixing the end events. So we will also have to press coming to our event. Because I know how hard these engineers have worked. And I want them to get like something back for it. So that's also why we're now in the USA presenting this car, because I am very proud of these engineers, and they should be as well. But we also want to show to the outside world how amazing this car is. And I think we've achieved

Nicholas Hill  18:04  
outstanding, I think it has been so cool to see and just kind of reading some of the articles in the press that have come out around them has been really incredible. Is there anything that you would want to tell someone that's interested in sustainability or helping with this?

Nikki Okkels  18:24  
Yes, I think one of the first things that I would like to say is that we're not doing it alone. We know as a students, even though we're not doing it alone, going to innovation. Also, because we're in a Brainport, Eindhoven area, we have a lot of companies that are interested to work together with us to create a more sustainable future. And I think that's also what I want to tell other people, you cannot change the world on your own. We have to work together with each other. And there are many other people that are very interested in sustainability. So look for each other, find each other, maybe do something and have it safe, like building a car, but you don't have to build a car to make an impact. And I think that's the message. Yes.

Nicholas Hill  19:08  
I love that. And you know, we've heard that message so many times on this show about the power of a few people having a great idea and working together to make it happen. Nikki, I want to just say thank you for your time today and for volunteering to talk with us. I know that you are busy, busy, busy right now. And so we certainly appreciate you spending this time and also just thank you to the T u Ecomotive. Team for the hard work and the impact that you're making. And I am excited to continue to see the progress that is made with Zim and and these other cars. So thank you for coming on. Nikki,

Nikki Okkels  19:51  
thank you so much for the invitation. It was an honor. Thank you

Nicholas Hill  20:07  
Today's show was directed and produced by me with music from Alex Grohl special thanks to our guests for their time and insight. If you like today's episode, please follow us wherever you listen to podcasts and consider leaving a review, as it will help us to spread the word about the show. You can view more information about today's episode online at acts of Thank you for listening