Audi is launching a pilot project with automotive supplier Mann+Hummel aimed at using electric vehicles to clean the air around them.

The cars are equipped with special filters developed by Mann+Hummel that can collect solid particles while driving, Audi’s press release explains. Particulate matter consists of particles small enough to be inhaled, which can cause health problems.

While the exhaust gases of gasoline and diesel engines contain particulate matter, significant amounts are also produced by brake, tire and road wear, Audi said. So even electric cars are contributing to the problem.

Air filtration system Audi Urban Purifier

Audi’s solution is a filter installed in the front of the electric car in front of the radiator, dubbed the Urban Purifier. Passive air flow from the forward motion of the vehicle draws particles into the filter while still providing sufficient air flow to cool the vehicle. The car’s fan can also be used to draw particles into the filter when it’s stationary, including during charging, Audi said.

After more than 50,000 kilometers (31,068 miles) of testing on its electric models, Audi claims that the filtration system has no negative impact on performance, including on hot summer days or during rapid charging. According to Audi, in some situations the E-Tron can completely filter out particles. This reminds us of system used in the Toyota Miraiwhere its filtering capacity is called “minus emissions”.

The setup requires little modification, which keeps costs down, according to Audi. The filter can be replaced during regular service intervals, and the filter itself is 15% recycled and the system as a whole is 60% recycled.

2022 Audi E-Tron S SUV and Sportback

2022 Audi E-Tron S SUV and Sportback

Other automakers have demonstrated cabin filtration systems. Volvo claimed the first a system for estimating particulate matter emissions inside a vehicle, and Hyundai showed its own version in 2019. But Audi could be the first to use electric cars to filter the outside air.

Particulate matter from car exhaust has been shown to cause breathing problems, and recent studies have also linked it to higher risk of dementia and heart disease. Yet under the Trump administration, the EPA rejected tougher standards for soot and particulate matter.

Electric vehicles have no tailpipe emissions, but filters such as those tested by Audi can help eliminate some of the particulate emissions from tires that one study turned out to be higher for electric vehicles due to the extra weight of their batteries. However, this is a controversial finding, and it should be noted that electric vehicles potentially reduce another source of particulate emissions –brake dust— by means of regenerative braking.

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