Vehicles are a key source of carbon dioxide’s increasing density in the atmosphere. Now two projects are enlisting those same vehicles to take the waste gas back out of the air.

At the Netherlands’ Eindhoven University of Technology, students have 3D-printed a plastic, all-electric car designed to capture more CO2 over its life cycle than it emits.

When the car reaches the end of its useful life, the plastics can be shredded and reused. 

The tires are made with reclaimed carbon black from Black Bear Carbon, a Dutch company extracting carbon black, a widely used industrial commodity, from worn-out tires.  

The car also can be used as a battery for homes, providing electricity and cutting household demand for oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels and the CO2 they leave behind.

Just as important, a special filter in the car separates CO2 from ambient air as the car moves and stores it for unloading later. The captured carbon can then be reclaimed for industrial uses.

The car grabs only two kilograms – about 4.5 pounds – of CO2 while driving 20,000 miles. However, the students argue, it’s volume that counts: with a billion passenger cars on the road, equipping even a respectable fraction with their patent-pending carbon-snatching filter could make a notable difference in reducing the air’s carbon excess.

But a car is small potatoes compared to CO2Rail’s carbon-capturing train cars.

The special rail cars attach to trains and guide passing air into a cylindrical collection chamber where a proprietary chemical reaction liquefies it and stores it to be collected when the train comes home.

The cleaned air then flows out the back of the car and into the air.

The process is powered by “regenerative braking,” which captures the energy normally lost when brakes slow a vehicle. That energy is directed into the “carbon car” to run its process of carbon separation.

According to CO2Rail, a single braking maneuver by a loaded car generates enough energy to run 20 houses for a day.

Latching onto that otherwise wasted energy slashes the cost of CO2Rail’s carbon filtering process to about $50 a ton, compared to the world’s largest carbon capture project now operating, which is Climeworks’ stand-alone plant operating at a cost of $100 a ton.

Putting one or two of its cars on a typical train would create the world’s largest carbon-capture project, the company says.

TRENDPOST: Carbon capture technologies are multiplying and becoming steadily cheaper.

As with many mobility technologies, the problem is infrastructure: once carbon has been sequestered in a sedan or rail car, how is it unloaded and carted to an industrial user?  The cost could be prohibitive.

Still, carbon capture is having a moment. Billions are being channeled to research and demonstration projects as extreme weather events multiply. 

The field will continue to grow and technologies will gradually be incorporated in ways and at points where the costs can be managed.

Meanwhile, Eindhoven and CO2Rail push the field’s conceptual edges further out.

Zem, Eindhoven’s sustainable electric car. 

Photo: Eindhoven University of Technology.

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