Students Build a Car That Removes Carbon From the Air as It Drives

By Erin Marquis, photo: Eindhoven University of Technology

Every few years, students at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands develop some kind of amazing technology for cars. This year, the students didn’t want to just go green; in the words of Ruby Rhod, they wanted to go super green. They came up with the Zem, an EV that actually captures carbon as it travels.

The Zem was designed to clean the air using what the team calls “direct air capture technology.” It wasn’t enough to the 35 students who developed the Zem that it was electric; they wanted to reduce the environmental impact from all of the car’s “life phases,” from manufacturing to afterlife in a scrap yard. Here’s how it works:

“When the car is driving, air will move through our self-designed filters, where the CO2 will be captured and stored. To showcase the low emissions of Zem, a life cycle analysis (LCA) was performed. In these LCA calculations all three life phases were taken into account,” the website states.

Zem doesn’t clean all that much air at the moment. It takes 20,000 miles for the Zem to capture two kilograms of carbon dioxide, according to the Daily Beast.

Sure, that doesn’t seem like a whole lot at first blush. But remember: It’s still a proof-of-concept. That means that there’s plenty of room for the technology to be refined and grow. As of now, though, 10 Zems could hold as much carbon dioxide as an average tree—which is still impressive, especially since the vehicle could have a profound impact on reducing the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere if rolled out at a large scale.

“[We] can already see that we will be able to increase the capacity of the filter in the coming years,” Louise de Laat, team manager of the project at TU/ecomotive, said in a press release. “Capturing carbon dioxide is a prerequisite for compensating for emissions during production and recycling.”


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