Image: YeZ Concept Car
Chinese automaker Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation recently unveiled designs for a photosynthesizing concept car that could take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
updated 5/21/2010 3:57:39 PM ET 2010-05-21T19:57:39

One reason treehuggers like myself love trees is that the leaves scrub CO2 from the atmosphere, use it for energy and emit life-giving oxygen, the process of photosynthesis. Wouldn't it be great if cars — notorious for CO2 emissions — could do the same?

Chinese automaker Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation is doing just that. They recently unveiled designs for a photosynthesizing concept car that could take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Details are still sketchy, which is understandable since it would basically be a leaf on wheels.

SAIC, which has a partnership wtih General Motors in China, showed designs for the YeZ Concept Car recently at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. YeZ (pronounced "yea-zi") is Mandarin Chinese for "leaf," and it's clear why: the open buggy-like vehicle has a roof shaped like one. The overall design makes me think of a Strawberry Shortcake doll for some reason, maybe because it looks like something she would ride.

The technical details haven't been articulated, but according to a Xinhua article, YeZ designer Ma Zhengkun says that the roof "absorbs solar energy and transforms it into electricity while spinning rotors on the four wheels generate power from the wind."

CNET Asia blogger Juniper Foo reports that the two-seater would have a "metal-organic framework," which would work to absorb CO2 and water, turning them into electricity that would get stored in a lithium-ion battery.

This artificial photosynthesis concepts reminds me of the research going on MIT in Dan Nocera's lab. He and Matthew Kanan developed a process that uses sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen gets used in a fuel cell and the oxygen goes into the air.

And when writing about the YeZ, Gizmag's Mike Hanlon cites the researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands who got halfway towards creating an artificial leaf last year.

These efforts mean that the artificial photosynthesis process could very well become a commercial reality by 2030.

My only concern is that the intense technical advancements it would require to make YeZ a reality could end up using far more resources for production than it ultimately saves.

As far as concept cars go, I'm still partial to Yves Behar's idea for a hackable one. Beyond that, between golf carts and bicycles, I think we've got several workable options right now. Sorry, Shortcake.

© 2012 Discovery Channel


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