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Geoengineering on Wheels.

Engineering meets climate protection.

Humans have always been affected by climate. But they've mastered the elements by adapting: changing what they wear, the way they heat their homes, and consuming seasonal produce. But the pipedream of actively controlling the climate has persisted. As early as 1889, science fiction pioneer Jules Verne wrote about a group sent from Baltimore to the Arctic in his novel, The Purchase of the North Pole. Believing large deposits of coal could be found beneath the ice, the group launched a mission to artificially warm the climate by using the recoil of a huge cannon to adjust the tilt of the Earth's axis.

The urgent problem of climate change is driving the creativity of researchers and engineers around the world. But instead of focusing on coal reserves, they aim to set the course for preventing future climate change. A global movement has emerged under the banner of 'geoengineering'. This concept uses calculated measures to push back climate change and is based on two key principles: First, greenhouses gasses need to be removed from the atmosphere and permanently stored elsewhere. Secondly, the amount of solar radiation reaching our planet needs to be managed in order to cool the Earth.

Sulphur parasol.

When it comes to the second objective, axis-shifting cannons are still in the realm of fiction. However, two proposed solutions that could deflect warming light away from the planet involve giant mirrors or reflective nanoparticles. A massive sulphur cloud injected into the stratosphere could also serve the same purpose. Volcanic eruptions provide this effect naturally by temporarily cooling the earth. Another idea involves harnessing the power of phytoplankton, which have properties that absorb CO2. Geoengineering in this case uses special fertilizers to artificially boost plankton growth.

Many of these approaches are visionary, but they raise formidable questions. This year's blockbuster film Geostorm depicts a situation in which a deep intervention in the climate goes wrong. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, embedding climate change solutions into everyday products and processes can make a big difference. And in this respect, cars can play a key role.

Fuel from dense air.

Changing what comes out of a car's tailpipe requires changes up front – in the engine compartment. Switching to electric and hybrid drives will lower emissions within a few years. And by using synthetic or eFuels, even internal combustion engines will run without producing harmful emissions – when the required energy is produced from clean sources. According to Bosch, the CO2 from European-made cars could be reduced by up to 2.8 gigatons by 2050. MIT researchers and Sunfire, a company based in Dresden are working on a similar approach.

In addition to using different fuel sources, newer cars feature driving modes that reduce energy consumption. With Daimler's 'Eco' mode for example, it is no longer necessary to hold down the accelerator pedal on straight roads. Instead, the car ‘sails’ using its own kinetic energy. you no longer need to hold down the gas pedal on straight roads. Instead, the car 'coasts' using its own kinetic energy.

Set in motion by sun and wind.

Even the sun can supply fuel for cars. Munich-based Sono Motors is bringing its 'Sion' to market – a compact car that charges its own batteries with 330 integrated solar cells. Priced at EUR 20,000, it will compete against a solar powered race car by Dutch startup Lightyear. Although this model is more expensive, it has a range of 800 kilometers. These designs are made possible by thin, flexible solar film. This type of material was introduced by Heliatek in Dresden. Using the mineral perovskite, wafer-thin films could be integrated into future cars. Companies like Greatcell Solar and Oxford PV are already working on this concept. And thanks to transparent solar cells, car windows will soon be transformed into power plants.

Using a similar approach, wind power can be used to charge batteries. Design students in Barcelona have implemented a futuristic concept in their project. They developed a race car that can channel airflow into vertical turbines flanking its body – and thus create its own power.

The car goes vegan.

Methane accounts for around 10% of greenhouse gasses. This may seem manageable, but methane is also 25 times more harmful to the environment. And this is what makes it a significant factor in global warming. Agriculture, especially livestock, is one of the main sources of methane. Numbering up to one billion, farm animals collectively produce enough natural gas to have a negative impact on the atmosphere. Shifting production away from animal-based foods is one way to reduce climate change. This fact has been recognized by suppliers of upholstery and other interior materials, who have since developed viable alternatives to bovine leather. Thanks to Acella, a synthetic material produced by Benecke-Kaliko, many of today's cars are going vegan. Even plant-based materials like pineapple leaves have the potential to be transformed into eco-friendly 'leather.'

Mobile air filters.

Removing CO2 from the atmosphere is another key objective of geoengineering. And cars can play a supporting role in this respect. Tesla ran a test showing how their Model X didn't just clean the air inside the car, but the air outside as well. The car roof offers another way to filter the air. Supplier Mann+Hummel designed a system to filter out even the finest dust particles. The Swiss company Climeworks proved that CO2 can be extracted from the air and sold at a profit by marketing filter-extracted CO2 as agricultural fertilizer. By implementing these concepts, the car itself could become a mobile filter capable of generating its own revenue.

Coated with titanium dioxide, a car body could absorb nitrogen oxides from the air it passes through. Elegant Embellishments, a Berlin-based company, demonstrated this effect on the outer walls of a house. Future car bodies could even be outfitted with CO2-filtering moss. The start-up Green City Solutions produces sheets of moss capable of cleaning the air in high-pollution areas.

Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde developed a more aesthetic solution. His concept extracts CO2 from ambient smog and presses it into diamonds. Imagine if this kind of technology could be condensed into a device and installed on a car. It could reward the driver every 100 km or so with a self-produced diamond.

The passive car.

Thanks to heating and AC systems, it's easy for passengers in a car to forget about weather conditions outside. It’s always comfortable inside the vehicle – but this comes at the cost of battery power and fuel. Things are no different in architecture: well-insulated houses consume less energy. Passive houses use intelligent ventilation, heating, and insulation to minimize energy consumption. But the first passive structure wasn't a house. Built in 1892, the polar ship Fram featured triple-pane windows and 40cm-thick wall panels made from felt, cork, wood, and linoleum. This made it possible to keep the ship warm without even lighting the furnace.

The passive car will be developed with special paints and windows. Coatings designed to reflect sunlight cool the interior have been around for a long time. One example is the BASF Solaric System that lowers interior temperature by 4°C. In Japan, Toyota offers an optional temperature-lowering Thermo-Tect Lime Green coating for Prius models. This not only lessens the need for air conditioning and refrigerants, it improves fuel economy.

Glass is an important factor when it comes to interior temperatures. To regulate sunlight coming through the windows, some cars use electric glass that can be dimmed or cleared at the touch of a button – or by gesture or voice control. Ferrari deployed this technology back in 2005 for the roof of the 575 M Superamerica.

Cars support city power.

In architecture, the passive house concept is far from the ultimate benchmark. A zero energy house produces roughly as much energy as it consumes. Energy plus houses even generate an energy surplus. The same principle can be applied to cars. Kuhn Schweiz AG have created a digger that uses its own weight to generate electricity when braking. Construction sites are often uneven or hilly. When a dump truck brakes on a downward slope, the traction creates a surprising amount of electrical power. In fact, this type of vehicle can replenish its own fuel with as much as a 10% surplus.

The FCV Plus presented by Toyota at the 2016 Paris Motor Show demonstrates how the energy surplus from cars could, en masse, be fed into a city's power grid. When parked, the car can be used to generate electricity for the driver's home. If a large number of cars like these are linked, they could form an integral, yet mobile, part of the electrical power system. This potential also exists for solar cars. The Sion can supply electric devices up to 2. 7 kW. In sunny areas, this could mean practically unlimited energy.

Geoengineering par excellence.

Geoengineering goes beyond large-scale operations. Just like every house can do its part, for instance, by turning off unused heating devices, individual mobility can also contribute to a cleaner world. If the automotive industry succeeds in implementing technologies that can filter and lower emissions and temperatures, the car itself will become a veritable geoengineer.

Authors: Christian Geiss and Jens Wollweber