Clean air cabs hit the road

22-Jul-2019

A partnership between Barclays and clean air pioneers Airlabs has seen a fleet of London black cabs fitted with technology that reduces in-car air pollution by up to 95%. 

A Barclays-sponsored pilot programme has seen people in one of the UK’s pollution hotspots finally breathe clean air, as a fleet of black cabs fitted with innovative air cleaners hit the streets.

The 10 electric cabs were fitted with patented filtration technology, developed by Airlabs – a graduate of the Barclays-partnered Unreasonable Impact programme.

In the driving seat of one of the aptly-named ‘air cabs’ as the meter started ticking outside the Houses of Parliament, London cabbie Michael Albert said: “My cab is essentially my office – and knowing that I could be spending my working day breathing in dangerous levels of pollution is really concerning, not just for me but also for my passengers. I’m really pleased that these filters can bring a breath of fresh air to the centre of our great city.”

Air quality inside cars is estimated to be up to two and half times worse than outside, and with London already home to many of the UK’s most polluted areas, professional drivers like Albert risk damaging their health every day they spend in the “office”.

The unique nano carbon filtration technology in Airlabs’ ‘airbubbl’ product works to remove up to 97% of particulate matter and 95% of nitrogen dioxide from the air inside the cab within 10 minutes of operation.

Starting with an objective rather than a product, the company’s scientist founders set out to make pollution visible – by measuring it – and then, as Ottolini explains, “reduce air pollution exposure around the world for as many people as possible. Our key innovation is the capture of small particulate and gas pollutants in an inexpensive way, without restricting airflow, so that it doesn’t require a lot of power”

“We are looking at all pollution – at street level, in vehicles and in buildings – and our initial focus is on where we can have the quickest, biggest impact with a single product. Our automotive aftermarket product can easily be retrofitted into any vehicle and our primary market is professional drivers, in particular taxi and private hire, who spend many hours a day in their vehicles.

"In addition, we are developing and implementing solutions for cleaning the air in public transport, offices, schools, hotels, hospitals and ultimately in outdoor spaces.”

Airlabs is exactly the sort of impactful company that excites Juliet Rogan, Barclays’ head of High Growth and Entrepreneurs Coverage, and the driving force behind the Barclays Air Cabs launch. “It was an exciting day, being part of getting these taxis out on London’s streets,” says Rogan, “but it was also exciting to be supporting Airlabs and giving them the platform of our brand and reach to highlight the innovative tech they have to solve a problem that’s so pervasive.”

Rogan explains that part of her department’s role is to understand what businesses are trying to achieve, beyond the products and services that banks can traditionally provide, and link young companies up “beyond banking” to a network of investors and corporates through innovations like Rise and Unreasonable Impact. 

Ottolini says that his journey through the Unreasonable Impact programme – which provides networking and mentorship for new businesses solving global problems – started with a tip from Barclays. “We already had a banking relationship with Barclays, and when the bank said, ‘shouldn’t you be a member of the Unreasonable Impact network?’, we were of course keen to join,” he says.

“It’s fantastic to be a member of a global network of likeminded entrepreneurs. It’s great for networking, it’s great for learning from each other, and also the access to investors and the Rise facilities is of high value. We’ve got a lot out of it and we’re also trying to put things back into it, because the scheme is about helping each other.”

Airlabs currently employs staff in London, UK, and Copenhagen, Denmark, and is hiring more to support its expansion as markets and possibilities open up. Rogan notes that the “beyond banking” focus means “job creation comes from the development of these companies as we back British-based entrepreneurs in high growth fields”.

Access to markets, she says, is one of the key challenges for scale-ups, and campaigns such as the Barclays Air Cabs pilot, which attracted national media coverage, help to elevate the profiles of the businesses her team work with, helping the company, Barclays, and the wider world, both in terms of the environment and jobs and growth.

Ottolini wants to “roll out a range of clean air products and solutions, ultimately with the aim of reaching as large an audience as possible and having a huge impact on public health”. He is delighted with the positive feedback from the air cabs drivers. “The drivers are acutely aware of the air quality they’re exposed to, and their feedback has been that they all feel a lot better having a device in their cab that gives them protection,” he says.

“To be able to bring them clean air that will directly impact their health means we are achieving our mission.”