Students build electric vehicle that captures carbon as it drives

The Zem prototype EV removes CO2 from the air as you drive it around.
Christopher McFadden

In electric vehicle (EV) news, a student team from the Eindhoven University of Technology has managed to develop a prototype electric passenger car that removes and stores carbon dioxide from the air as it rolls down the road. Designed with the aim of capturing more CO2 than is emitted during the full lifecycle of the vehicle, this vehicle would significantly improve the lifetime carbon footprint of producing and running EVs over their lifetimes. 

The project, which was inspired by the 2018 Noah concept car and 2020 Luca, is the seventh for the tuecomotive students. Called The Zem (EM-07), the team's task was to construct a carbon net-zero electric vehicle.

new ev noah
The EM-07 builds on the TUE Ecomotive Noah. Source: tuecomotive

In order to minimize material waste and emit "as little CO2 emissions as possible," the team employed additive manufacturing to manufacture monocoque and body panels. They also used recovered plastics, which can be shredded and reused for future projects.

The use of recycled plastics continues inside, along with sustainable materials like pineapple leather. 

The team chose polycarbonate over glass for the windows since it is deemed to be more environmentally friendly. Additionally, a modular lighting system, modular electronics, and a modular entertainment system were implemented. These components can all be employed in different products.

Like all other pure electrical vehicles, zero carbon dioxide is released while the Zem is being driven.

Details on the drivetrain are lacking because the project's focus was on the car's carbon footprint and recyclable components, but the students told New Atlas that it has a 22-kW motor, nine 2.3-kWh modular battery packs, and "an old Audi differential with a relatively high gear ratio to increase the torque."

tue eco zem
Source: tuecomotive

We also know that photovoltaic cells have been added to the upper surfaces to increase range and that regenerative braking has been added to squeeze a little more range out of the batteries. Digital mirrors are used to reduce aero drag, as well as bi-directional charging.

The team is currently attempting to patent the design

The students are attempting to obtain a patent for direct air capture technology, which flows through what appears to be a fairly typical grille and scrubs the air as the car moves. According to the team, for every 12,800 miles (20,600 km) traveled annually at an average speed of 37 mph (60 kph), up to 2 kg of CO2 might be removed.

Although not much on its own, this technology has the potential to significantly aid global efforts to reduce carbon emissions if it were to be made available to the millions of cars currently on the road.

The Zem's filter currently reaches capacity after 200 miles (320 km), and it has been proposed that filters of this type could be cleaned with green energy, the CO2 they have already captured stored in a tank as the EV is topped off at charging stations, and then reused to capture the subsequent batch.

It's unclear what will happen to the CO2 that has been captured after it has dropped off, but there have been some interesting recent projects that hint at possible solutions. These projects include using the CO2 to make more environmentally friendly concrete, turning it into synthetic fuels and plastics using basic chemical building blocks, and even adding the fizz to 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."

tu eco zem
Source: tuecomotive

In order to reuse or recycle as much of the vehicle and its parts as feasible, the students have also studied what happens to the Zem once its useful life is up.

Team members and the Zem will travel to the US in August for a tour of universities and businesses as work on the concept continues to advance toward carbon net-zero in the hopes that it would encourage others to take on the task.

"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."

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board