One of the beauties of having a battery electric car is that you are driving a vehicle that has zero emissions. It’s not a car with reduced or “ultra-low” emissions like many hybrids and other modern cars, but actually a zero-emission vehicle. It sounds perfect, but there’s still one problem, which is that most EVs come with a pretty hefty carbon footprint for their production, transportation, and sometimes their charging as well.
So, what’s the solution? To help offset the carbon footprint, not emitting new carbon emissions is important, but more is required. What is needed is a car that will provide net-zero or better by capturing additional CO2 as during its typical operation. This is where the 35-strong student team from Eindhoven University of Technology come in with their working prototype, the Zem EV.
Zem: Latest in a longer line
The Eindhoven team hasn’t just started with the Zem prototype EV. In fact, they have developed a number of similar concepts before, namely Noah in 2018, and Luca in 2020, each created to solve a particular problem. The Zem (also referred to officially as the EM-07) was built in response to a challenge to create a net-zero electric vehicle.
The Zem had to be carbon neutral, which means reducing the carbon footprint of every stage, and in particular the manufacture of the vehicle. Its monocoque and body panels were made using additive manufacturing techniques, and the team also made extensive use of recycled plastics both for the exterior and interior.
Notable substitutions include pineapple leather instead of any animal-based product, and polycarbonate instead of glass in the windows. The electronic, lighting, and entertainment systems are all modular, which means that they can be easily removed and used in other products, thus boosting sustainability.
Athletic design and electric power
When thinking about the Zem prototype EV, it would be understandable considering the record of many EV car concepts and designs in the past to expect something rather zany or whacky. As it happens, the students’ focus on functionality and carbon neutrality has not done anything to detract from the car’s aesthetic. The powerful coupe body lines and aerodynamic curve make this prototype seem very close to a real production model.
The electric powertrain is made up of nine modular battery packs of 2.3-kWh each, and the electric motor runs at up to 22-kW. It even includes regenerative braking technology that reclaims electrical energy as the car slows, and solar cells have been installed on its exterior surfaces to help boost range.
Carbon capture happens at the front of the vehicle where the specially designed (and patent-pending) grille helps channel air to direct air capture tech. The team currently estimates that for every 12,800 miles the car drives, it can remove up to 2-kg of CO2. It’s only small amounts currently, but imagine millions of these production models each removing up to 2-kg or more every year, and we start to see some positive effects.
Like many green concept technologies, capacities and range are still issues that need working out on the Zem car. The carbon-capturing filters need to be cleaned or changed every 200 miles, for example, which doesn’t seem a great deal. But what to do with all the captured carbon? This is part of the reason that the Eindhoven team is planning a tour of US universities to help inspire others to take up the challenge and contribute to this innovative adventure.