A team of researchers from the Eindhoven University of Technology has revealed Zem; the car that cleans the air while driving. With Zem, the team hopes to inspire the automotive industry to look to at the full life cycle of their cars. The researchers question: if it is possible for 30 students to create a sustainable car in one year, why is the industry not taking any major actions? By implementing new technologies, materials and production methods, the team is reducing emissions and optimizing the reusability and recyclability of their car.
The researchers say that the transport sector is a major polluter, producing about a quarter of the EU's total CO2 emissions a few years ago. Passenger cars are responsible for more than 60 percent of these emissions. The amount of CO2 produced by passenger cars is the main reason that the students wanted to create a car that not only has low emissions in the production process, but also reduces CO2 emissions while driving. Their long term ambition is for the car to become fully CO2 neutral in all life phases. For further information see the IDTechEx report on Electric Vehicles: Land, Sea & Air 2022-2042.
In the production, the team have been making use of additive manufacturing. This method helped create the concept car with as little CO2 emissions as possible. Collaborating with partners at CEAD and Royal3D, led to development of the monocoque and the body panels to be fully 3D-printable. By 3D-printing these parts of Zem, the exact shape that was needed could be printed and almost no waste material was produced. Printing these car parts with circular plastics that can be shredded and re-used for other projects, contributes even more to the goal of having very low to no CO2 emissions during all life phases.
Capturing CO2 while driving
Cleaning the air while driving instead of emitting by use of direct air capture is a fairly new method of capturing CO2 into a filter. This has been implemented into Zem. The idea is very simple: while driving, air will move through the self-designed filters and the CO2 will be captured and stored. For further information see the IDTechEx report on Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) 2021-2040.
Design for recycling
The compatibility of materials, easy separation, and the use of additives among other features determine the recyclability of Zem. By designing most parts within the car to be reusable or recyclable, the researchers are making sure that the CO2 emissions in the after-life of Zem are lowered in comparison to "conventional" cars. Since all these materials and car parts can be used for other purposes and very little new material enters the cycle, this appears to be the most sustainable option for the team.
Recycling carbon black
Since up to 1.8 billion tires enter the global waste stream every year and the very useful carbon black is normally wasted, the team have collaborated with Black Bear Carbon to implement recycled carbon black back into the refinishing of the car. This circular approach not only solves an important waste management problem, but also drastically reduces the CO2 that is normally emitted during this process.
Bi-directional charging powered by solar panels
Another technology that is implemented into Zem is bi-dicectional charging. The bi-directional charging technology makes it possible for cars to provide energy to houses. Zem can act as an external battery to a house, providing the house with green energy when needed. The bi-directional charging technology has been paired with solar panels that are implemented on the roof of the car. In this way, Zem makes use of both the batteries and the space on the roof to make the vehicle and its surroundings more sustainable, even when it is not driving.
Work continues to improve the concept car and there are hopes others will be inspired to create similar vehicles.
"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."
Source and top image: University of Eindhoven