Prototype EV scrubs CO2 from the air as it drives along
A student team from the Eindhoven University of Technology has built a prototype electric passenger car that removes and stores carbon dioxide from the air as it rolls down the road, with the aim of capturing more CO2 than is emitted during the full lifecycle of the vehicle.
The project is the seventh for the TU/ecomotive students, following 2018's Noah concept and the Luca from 2020. The challenge for the Zem (EM-07) team was to build a carbon net-zero electric vehicle.
The team created a monocoque and body panels using additive manufacturing techniques to reduce material waste and produce "as little CO2 emissions as possible" while also making use of recycled plastics, which can be shredded and re-used for other projects.
The use of recycled plastics continues inside, along with sustainable materials like pineapple leather. Polycarbonate is the material of choice for the windows instead of glass, which the team says is better for the environment. And a modular infotainment system, modular electronics and modular lighting were installed as well, which can all be reused in other products.
The fact that the Zem is an electric vehicle means that zero carbon dioxide is emitted while it's being driven around. As the focus of this project was the car's carbon footprint and recyclability, details on the drivetrain are scant but the students have told us that there are nine 2.3-kWh modular battery packs installed, there's a 22-kW motor and there's "an old Audi differential with a relatively high gear ratio to increase the torque."
We also know that regenerative braking has been included to eke a little more out of the batteries, and photovoltaic cells have been incorporated on the upper surfaces to extend range. Bi-directional charging is cooked in too, and digital mirrors employed to reduce aero drag.
What looks like a fairly standard grille to the front actually flows to direct air capture technology – for which the students are seeking a patent – that scrubs the air as the vehicle moves along. The team claims that up to 2 kg of CO2 could be removed for every 20,600 km (12,800 miles) traveled per year at around 60 km/h (37 mph). Though this isn't a great deal on its own, if the technology was to be rolled out to the millions of cars on the road around the world then it has the potential to make a real contribution to decarbonization efforts.
The Zem's filter currently fills to capacity after 320 km (~200 miles), and the thinking is that such filters could be cleaned using green energy and the captured CO2 stored in a tank as the EV is topped up at charging stations, and then reused to capture the next batch.
What happens to the captured CO2 after drop-off isn't clear – though we have seen some interesting projects recently that show potential in dealing with such things, including using it to make more eco-friendly concrete, creating synthetic fuels and plastics from simple chemical building blocks and even putting the fizz in bubbly water.
"It is really still a proof-of-concept, but we can already see that we will be able to increase the capacity of the filter in the coming years," said team manager Louise de Laat. "Capturing CO2 is a prerequisite for compensating for emissions during production and recycling."
The students have also looked at what happens to the Zem at the end of its useful life, with a view to re-using or recycling as much of the car and its components as possible.
Work continues to improve on the concept and head toward carbon net-zero, with team members and the Zem heading to the US in August for a tour of universities and companies, in the hope that the concept will inspire others to take up the challenge.
"We want to tickle the industry by showing what is already possible," said the team's external relations manager, Nikki Okkels. "If 35 students can design, develop and build an almost carbon-neutral car in a year, then there are also opportunities and possibilities for the industry."
"We call on the industry to pick up the challenge, and of course we are happy to think along with them," Okkels continued. "We're not finished developing yet either, and we want to take some big steps in the coming years. We warmly invite car manufacturers to come and take a look."
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Also 20,000 miles a year with filter changes every 200 miles? so every 3 days you need to change/clean the filter, sounds like more effort/costs than the average person would be willing to bare
If one vehicle can be produced, used, and its parts recycled with net zero CO2 emissions, then building ALL vehicles this way would prevent the increase in emissions from the same old, same old. It follows that if all vehicles were built this way then the infrastructure to support them will be developed and built as well. A corollary, of course, will be the necessary improvements in filter exchange and cleaning, and CO2 storage.
Henry Ford didn't give up because there weren't gas stations at every corner, with 500 gallon tanks of fuel buried under the pumps, though I'm sure there know-it-all nay-sayers in 1890 as well.
The airflow around and through a vehicle already contributes a significant amount of drag , so why would the filter be a detractor?
The real question is not "why thinking outside of the box" won't work, but are these students refining an implementable individual's approach to reducing the CO2 rise in our atmosphere?
Even if this prototype goes nowhere (therefore a "gimmick"?) their thinking and enthusiasm should be applauded. This is a global issue and the haves should help as much as the have nots!
The collection of gas is better served at the point of generation (where it is more concentrated). Otherwise, diffusion ensures you just collect it where the cost of collection is minimised. Therefore having mobile collection is dumb unless all energy produced in the country is renewable.
Critical thinking needs to be used before wasting resources to solve a problem that has already been solved elsewhere. Not every idea is a good idea. Each idea needs to be refined not just acted upon. "Good intentions" without thought are often not good at all.