The car of the future, it seems, is called Zem, a vehicle that cleans the air while driving. The ecological innovation, more formally known as Zero Emission Mobility, has been created by a team of ambitious students from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.
A total of 42 young people joined forces to develop a car that, thanks to direct air capture technology, reduces CO₂ emissions during all life stages (production, use and end-of-life). The smart vehicle was first presented this summer and has garnered worldwide interest.
‘This is an inspiring development for the entire car industry that underlines our country’s leading position in sustainability,’ according to Auto Recycling Nederland (ARN) general manager Paul Dietz. He said he was proud to present the TU Eindhoven team with an innovation award during the organisation’s annual networking day.
Dietz announced that ARN’s 174 affiliated recycling partners processed 178 000 vehicles last year, boasting a recycling rate of 98.7%. E-car batteries weighing 127.5 tonnes were collected for recycling in 2021. Approximately half of the batteries delivered second-life applications, notably energy storage.
The power of 3D printing
A unique feature of Zem is that the monocoque frame construction and body panels are made with 3D printing technology. The team explains that, by printing the exact shape of each component needed, there is almost no waste.
‘It is better to keep 3D flows separate from each other and the recycled granulate used for the parts can also be reused,’ says team manager Louise de Laat. ‘In the future, this will allow us to make new parts from the granulate used for the chassis. What also makes our car unique: the parts are printed with shredded circular plastics.’
Zem’s parts are also designed to be reusable or recyclable. And, because the materials are easy to separate, the granulate can be efficiently recycled in two streams. Electrical systems, made of steel and aluminium, are also easy to disconnect from the panel.
‘We really made the vehicle into a kind of materials and components toolkit, allowing us to separate and recycle the panels properly,’ adds De Laat. ‘We also used as little glue as possible and welded the plastic as much as possible.’
This vision has been applied throughout the design. For example, chair upholstery is made by Foamland, a company that uses residues from pineapple production. The roof upholstery is made of ocean plastics, as are the floor mats.
Recycled carbon black is used in the coating of the car and tyres. Carbon black is extracted from end-of-life car tyres and paint, among other things.
Electronic components were also obtained from a recycling partner that supplies parts for reuse. TU Eindhoven hopes that urban mining could, in part, solve the chip shortage plaguing the global automotive and electronics sector.
The climate-neutral goal
Europe aims to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050: an enormous task and challenge, admits De Laat. ‘It is well-known that the transport sector is responsible for a significant proportion of greenhouse gas emissions so there is still room for improvement in the area of sustainability,’ she says.
The Zem ‘concept car’ must prove that the car industry can achieve its sustainability goal. ‘If we can achieve this in less than a year with our project, it will be a challenge for the industry to show this on a large scale.’