AMS Spring 2023

“Zero Emissions Vehicle” 3D Printed from Plastic Waste

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An Austrian studio called EOOS has developed a vehicle that is not only meant to be environmentally friendly in terms of its energy source, but in its manufacturing materials as well. The Zero-Emissions Utility Vehicle (ZUV), is an electric tricycle 3D printed from recycled plastic.

For the Museum of Applied Arts’ Climate Care exhibition at the Vienna Biennale for Change, EOOS NEXT, the firm’s social design division, conceived of the ZUV. The vehicle features a rear-wheel hub electric motor and a body 3D printed from 70 kg of polypropylene salvaged from plastic packaging waste at supermarkets. 3D printing company The New Raw relied on its industrial robotic arm, outfitted with a plastic extruder, to manufacture the chassis.

The New Raw's 3D printing robotic arm, installed at the Zero Waste Lab, in Thessaloniki as a part of Coca-Cola's “Zero Waste Future” program in Greece. Image courtesy of The New Raw.

The New Raw’s 3D printing robotic arm, installed at the Zero Waste Lab, in Thessaloniki as a part of Coca-Cola’s “Zero Waste Future” program in Greece. Image courtesy of The New Raw.

The ZUV concept was based on the idea that such a vehicle could be produced at a local fablab before a bike shop might attach off-the-shelf components, such as a motor, handlebars, brakes and wheels. Parts could be easily repaired and replaced from local bike kitchens and, once the body of the vehicle outlived its usefulness, it could be shredded and re-printed into a new bike.

The New Raw’s concept for using recycled materials as feedstock for 3D printed goods. Image courtesy of The New Raw.

“We wanted to design around local, affordable production,” said EOOS founder Harald Gründl in an interview with Dezeen. “Because of the high labour costs in Europe, almost every bike frame is produced in Asia. But we want a local ZUV production facility in every city around the world. What we envision is a circular economy of mobility. Service schemes with a designed ‘take back’ will be the future. And it’s way easier to close the loop if you do it locally rather than sending around ships full of waste as we do today, which is stupid.”

The use of an industrial robotic arm meant that The New Raw team did not need to produce support structures. The resulting 100-kg ZUV can hold up to two adults on its bench seat, with two children or cargo in the box up front.

Transportation represents 29 percent of domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. About 58 percent of this comes from light vehicles. According to “Public Transportation Reduces Greenhouse Gases and Conserves Energy,” private vehicles are the largest contributor to a household’s carbon footprint. While the most significant method for reducing these emissions would be to boost public transportation, electric vehicles are probably what appear more often in the public imagination and will likely play an important role in decarbonizing transportation.

The 3D printed ZUV. Image courtesy of Dezeen and Studio Theresa Bentz.

The 3D printed ZUV. Image courtesy of Dezeen and Studio Theresa Bentz.

A vehicle like the ZUV would be most ideal for local traffic in a city, where the majority of personal cars use their energy. Gründl explained to Dezeen that, even in the case of electric vehicles, there are resources and energy used up on driving such a heavy load.

“A car has maybe 800 kilogrammes of battery while a bicycle has eight and it does the job for many of the journeys that we want to make in a city,” Gründ said. “A lightweight vehicle has the benefit of having less effort in the production but it also uses less energy to transport people. The more sustainable you want to make a mobility system, the less weight it should have.”

The use of recycled material is another aspect of reducing the embedded emissions of the ZUV. As covered in our Climate Disrupted series, fossil fuel businesses are banking on plastics manufacturing as their way out of energy and into materials in an age of climate-related regulation. The ZUV, however, uses recycled material, which at least does away with emissions at the end of the polypropylene’s lifecycle.

The 3D printed ZUV. Image courtesy of Dezeen and Studio Theresa Bentz.

Image courtesy of Dezeen and Studio Theresa Bentz.

“The reuse of post-consumer plastics is a big step towards net-zero carbon emissions. Every new vehicle will be, in a way, carbon neutral as long as the 3D printer is operated with energy coming from renewables,” Gründ said. “When supermarket plastic in Vienna goes to recycling, they’re just burning it,” he said. “And this creates another three tonnes of CO2 emissions, which we could avoid.”

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