Sustainable Electric Car That Cleans The Air While Driving — Zem

TU Eindhoven student team TU/ecomotive has developed a sustainable electric passenger car that captures more carbon dioxide (CO₂) than it emits while driving. It is a prototype, called Zem, that purifies the air through a special filter. By storing the captured CO₂ and then disposing it, Zem can contribute to reducing global warming. The students will continue to improve the vehicle in the coming years, with the goal of making it carbon-neutral for its entire life cycle and eventually hitting the road.

Zem — sustainable electric passenger car. Photo courtesy of Bart van Overbeeke.

The transport sector is a major polluter, producing about a quarter of the EU’s total carbon emissions a few years ago. Passenger cars are responsible for more than 60 percent of these emissions. To reduce these emissions, 35 students designed, developed and built a car that fewer produces or no emissions both during the production process and on the road. In addition, the team strives for optimal reusability of materials in the future.

Large scale

The car can capture 2 kilograms of CO₂ through a special filter at 20,000 travel miles per year. This means that ten cars can store as much carbon dioxide as an average tree. That may not seem like much, but the overall payoff is significant if you were to soon implement it on a large scale in every passenger car, the team argues. After all, there are more than a billion passenger cars driving around the world, which could capture net CO₂ instead of emitting it.

The filter through which the outside air flows is unique: the students are in the process of applying for a patent for this innovation. “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. Capturing CO₂ is a prerequisite for compensating for emissions during production and recycling,” explains team manager Louise de Laat. TU/ecomotive is thinking of a future where the full filter can be emptied easily via the charging station when the car is charging. The car can currently drive 320 kilometers before the filter is full.


A life cycle analysis with SimaPro software can be used to determine the extent to which the life cycle of the vehicle — from construction to use and afterlife — is CO₂-neutral. Several innovations contribute to this goal. Consider the 3D printing techniques used by the students. The monocoque and body panels are manufactured via 3D printing, resulting in almost no residual waste. In addition, the student team prints circular plastics that can be shredded and reused for other projects.

Zem sustainable electric car. Photo courtesy of Bart van Overbeeke, Eindhoven University of Technology.

The electric and sustainable four-wheeler has a sporty look. With good reason, say the students, because a sporting challenge awaits the automotive industry. After all, road transport must become much more sustainable. Nikki Okkels, external relations manager at TU/ecomotive: “We want to tickle the industry by showing what is already possible. And working together. 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.”

Okkels: “We call on the industry to pick up the challenge, and of course we are happy to think along with them. 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.”

TU Eindhoven students who passenger car that captures more CO₂ than it emits while developed driving. Photo courtesy of Bart van Overbeeke, Eindhoven University of Technology.

All images courtesy of Bart van Overbeeke, Eindhoven University of Technology.

It is time to finally reveal Zem; the car that cleans the air while driving! With Zem, we are inspiring the automotive industry to look to the full life cycle of their cars. We also want to dare the industry with this concept car, 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, we are reducing emissions and optimizing the reusability and recyclability of their car.

TU/ecomotive: Student team based at the Eindhoven University of Technology that aims at shaping the future of sustainable mobility by implementing the most recent innovations into concept cars. Image courtesy of Bart van Overbeeke, Eindhoven University of Technology.

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. Our long term ambition is for the car to become fully CO2 neutral in all life phases.

Image courtesy of Bart van Overbeeke, Eindhoven University of Technology.

sustainable production methods

In the production, we have been working with a very new method; additive manufacturing. This method helped us to create our concept car with as little CO2 emissions as possible. Collaborating with partners as CEAD and Royal3D, we have developed 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 our goal of having very low to no CO2 emissions during all life phases.

Capturing CO2 while driving

We are shaking the industry by cleaning the air while driving instead of emitting, we are doing this with a technology called “direct air capturing”. Direct air capture is a fairly new method of cleaning the air by capturing CO2 into a filter. We have made use of this innovative technology and implemented this in our car. The idea is very simple: while driving, air will move through our self-designed filters and the CO2 will be captured and stored.

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 our car to be reusable or recyclable, we 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 materials has to get into the cycle, this felt like the most sustainable option for us.

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, we have collaborated with Black Bear Carbon to recycled carbon black back into the implementation of the refinishing of our 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 upcoming technology that is implemented into Zem is bi-directional charging. The bi-directional charging technology makes it possible for cars to provide energy to houses when no renewable energy is being generated at that moment. You can see Zem as a sort of external battery to your 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.

Image courtesy of Bart van Overbeeke, Eindhoven University of Technology.


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