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College students develop solar-powered car that literally 'eats' air pollution as it drives: 'We pulled it off'

"We're just showing the big industry what is possible."

Zem car

Photo Credit: Bart van Overbeeke

Meet the solar-powered electric vehicle that cleans carbon pollution from the air as you drive it: the Zem car. This super sporty and sleek magic car has been described as "carbon eating."

The vehicle was developed by a team of students at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. The car is suited with a carbon capture device on its underbelly, and the body of the car itself isn't made of materials typically seen on cars –– but is instead made using recycled plastics formed by a 3D printer.

Teamwork was the name of the game when it came to development: The base group was a team of students, and partner sponsors sourced the materials. The Zem car has lithium-ion batteries from Dutch company Cleantron, gets up to 15% of its charge via solar panels from Watllab, and has its carbon output studied thanks to a lifestyle analysis conducted with SimaPro software. 

The 2021 team's goal was "zero emissions mobility," which led to the name "Zem." As the team worked on this innovative vehicle, they realized that achieving carbon neutrality was impossible without a new solution. So they decided they needed to find a way for the Zem car to remove carbon from the air. 

The solution came by way of two filters on the underside of the car, which do their job while the car is in motion. As it is driven, air passes through the filter while carbon dioxide sticks to it. 

The filters have to be emptied every 200 miles, but the Zem car team has already developed a solution to mitigate the potential hassle. They designed an EV charging station that extracts the carbon dioxide so that it can be repurposed for other clean fuels or safely stored to keep it out of the atmosphere.

The Zem car, at this stage, is an awesome concept with lots of room to grow. The carbon capture device currently captures only 4.41 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 20,000 miles –– this is only 0.04% of the average vehicle's annual carbon and less than one-tenth the amount that the average tree absorbs annually.

The team continues to work to bring the Zem car to what they believe is its full potential — carbon neutrality. Even further, the Zem car serves as an example to the industry of what is possible.

"We pulled it off: Thirty-five students with a lot of eagerness but a lot less experience than the main industry that we are competing with," says Nikki Okkels, the external relations manager for TU/ecomotive, in an interview with CNN. "We're just showing the big industry what is possible."

We can't wait to see the progress made as the Zem car and this carbon-removing technology evolve as the vehicle develops.

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