Current knowledge suggests that the dust-driven wind scenario provides a realistic framework for understanding mass loss from C-rich AGB stars. For M-type objects, however, recent detailed models demonstrate that radiation pressure on silicate grains is not sufficient to drive the observed winds, contrary to previous expectations. In this paper, we suggest an alternative mechanism for the mass-loss of M-type AGB stars, involving the formation of both carbon and silicate grains due to non-equilibrium effects, and we study the viability of this scenario. We model the dynamical atmospheres and winds of AGB stars by solving the coupled system of frequency-dependent radiation hydrodynamics and time-dependent dust formation, using a parameterized description of non-equilibrium effects in the gas phase. This approach allows us to assess under which circumstances it is possible to drive winds with small amounts of carbon dust and to get silicate grains forming in these outflows at the same time. The properties of the resulting wind models, such as mass loss rates and outflow velocities, are well within the observed limits for M-type AGB stars. Furthermore, according to our results, it is quite unlikely that significant amounts of silicate grains will condense in a wind driven by a force totally unrelated to dust formation, as the conditions in the upper atmosphere and wind acceleration region put strong constraints on grain growth. The proposed scenario provides a natural explanation for the observed similarities in wind properties of M-type and C-type AGB stars and implies a smooth transition for stars with increasing carbon abundance, from solar-composition to C-rich AGB stars, possibly solving the long-standing problem of the driving mechanism for stars with C/O close to one.
A&A Letters, in press