The environmental impact caused by transportation has come under the spotlight in recent years resulting into a buzz around embedding sustainable mobility solutions. As the necessity to reduce carbon emission is the need of the hour, manufacturers are reshaping their businesses models, adopting eco-friendly practices and striving to gain consumer approval. In the current scenario, manufacturers that can provide vehicles at an affordable price, greater performance, better comfort & style plus superior fuel economy are gaining an edge over competition.
In the past decade, automakers have done an impressive job of making cars that are more efficient than ever, without sacrificing power and performance. Technological innovations have allowed automakers to pump up the horsepower and fuel economy at the same time. Those innovations include the increased use of lightweight materials, tyres with lower resistance, fuel efficient engines, additives to stabilise biodiesel and penetration of hybrid & connected vehicles. Literally, there are hundreds of new technologies available in the market which can improve fuel efficiency, but it all begins with lightweight materials.
Weight reduction with lightweight materials
Advance lightweight materials are widely used for boosting the fuel economy of modern automobiles while maintaining safety and performance. Lighter objects, such as high performing plastic, are highly energy efficient as they consume less power and fuel during the acceleration process compared to the heavier objects. Plastic astonishingly makes 50% of today’s cars, resulting into less strain on the engine and lower tailpipe emissions. The lightweight plastic is created through a process that combines plastic with metal, without compromising on its stability properties. The combination offers weight reduction of up to 20%, with higher stiffness and strength. The solutions are mainly applied to the car body, chassis, drivetrain, interior and electronics. For instance, the material can be used in thermoplastic engine oil pans, CNG gas tank liners, cross car beams, front-end structures, brake pedals, steering rods, airbags & airbag housings, battery system carriers, car body inserts and structural body frames. Compared to the traditional steel material, hybrid plastic metal technology is cost-efficient and is already used by well-known automakers in today’s date.
Taking a step further in development of hybrid technology, manufacturers have innovated ‘Hollow Profile Hybrid (HPH) technology’, which uses hollow metal profiles with round or square cross-sections instead of sheet metal. Due to the dimensional stability, hollow profiles enable hybrid parts with significantly higher torsional stiffness and strength. There is an enormous potential for structural components, such as cross car beams, which were not resilient enough using the conventional hybrid technology. Apart from the four-wheeler segment, the two-wheeler vehicle segment is also utilising lightweight materials to achieve better fuel efficiency. Two-wheeler manufacturers are also converting many metal parts, like grab handle, footrest, air intake manifold, fenders, cylinder head cover, etc to plastics.
Utilisation of fuel-efficient tyres
In addition to hybrid plastic metal technology, another emerging trend in achieving fuel efficiency is utilisation of tyres with better fuel efficiency. For decades, tyre designers have ought to reduce rolling resistance as a way to improve fuel economy. However, there is a trade-off. If the rolling resistance of the tyre is reduced, it will also reduce the tyre’s ability to grip a wet road. Better rolling resistance has also typically translated to a tyre with lower durability. But things are changing today, thanks to materials science, which has facilitated the emergence of fuel-efficient tires. Additives, such as Nanoprene (made for tire treads), lower rolling resistance without sacrificing wet grip or durability. Also, new and improved rubber materials, such as polybutadiene rubber, for tyre manufacturers, substantially reduce a tyre’s rolling resistance, which is the friction it encounters as it grips the road. As a consequence, fuel consumption is lower, which translates to less emission of carbon dioxide. It is not only about utilisation of green tyres that contributes towards sustainable development, but also about utilising green production methods while creating these tyres. The specialty chemical company LANXESS has already facilitated cleaner production of tyres by removing silicone from washable and permanent release agents and innovated versatile solutions for manufacturing of tyres.
Penetration of hybrid vehicles
Growing influence of electric, shared and autonomous mobility will reshape the future of the automotive industry. Stakeholders, cities, automakers, suppliers, fleet owners and more will see profound benefits, opportunities and challenges as the technology will evolve in the coming years. Autonomous vehicles will revolutionise the urban landscape by allowing machines to take over driving. Electric cars will soon contribute towards reducing the carbon emission and decarbonising the transport sector. Shared use of mobility services will further offer tailored mobility services, which can possibly replace the need for privately owned modes of transport. Key advancements in electric & hybrid vehicles will certainly include improved and matured battery technology to solve the current limitation in operating ranges. Also, infrastructure and urban planning will play its role; for example, an adequate station network for fast charging of batteries and for supply of alternative fuels for hybrid vehicles, like using natural gas, will be developed.
Emergence of smart technologies
The future of the automotive industry will witness wider adoption of connected technologies, allowing users to get valuable insights about their vehicle. For instance, now the consumer will be able to closely understand the fuel consumption patterns of vehicles at one touch and take appropriate actions to improve efficiency. The wave of digital disruptive technology also facilitates vehicle-to-vehicle communication that essentially can decrease traffic, vehicle accidents and fatalities. The concept of smart technologies is evolving beyond integration of digital equipment and is emphasising on utilisation of cleaner fuels, like solar energy, biodiesel and hydrogen gas. Building an eco-friendly infrastructure that has solar roads, alternate charging & refuelling station and green space is essential to make our cities sustainable in the long run.
Biodiesel is an alternative fuel similar to conventional or ‘fossil’ diesel created to reduce dependency on traditional fuel options and decreasing emission. This can be described as a carbon neutral fuel which produces no net output of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide after the fuel is combusted. The issue associated with this fuel alternative is its storage, as biodiesel is vulnerable to environmental factors, such as air, moisture, light, etc. As we are progressing, now there are ways to improve the storing process of diesel with the help of additives. If the additives are rightly used, they can increase the resistance of biodiesel to oxidation process and increase the shelf life. These additives ensure that elements obtained from natural raw materials remain stable and can, therefore, be used for a longer duration. The stabilisers do not impair the fuel’s chemical or technical properties in any way and there is no need to worry about impermissible interactions with other fuel components. Biodiesel stabilisers, in the coming years, will play a pivotal role in mainstreaming the biodiesel usage.
The Indian OEMs are opting for better technical support in their endeavour to reduce weight, offer better quality, improve fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions. With this increase in demand for quality products, there is a huge potential for quality engineering plastics & related services in the Indian market. There is a need to support auto OEMs with expertise and knowledge to enable them to convert metal parts to plastics, without diluting the specifications. It is important to closely work with vehicle manufacturers to create a difference in the existing scenario through conscious efforts. In India, the passenger car segment is rapidly growing, which will further create immense opportunity for utilisation of technologies, such as plastic, fuel efficient tires, alternative fuel options, EVs and digital solutions.
Manufacturing the new age of transportation
As we progress in this evolving business landscape, a booming segment like EVs will gain huge advantages by integrating a lighter and strong frame, as it will increase the car’s capacity to carry heavy batteries. The scope for reducing CO2 emissions by tyre manufacturers, by optimising energy consumption and by usage of green/biomaterial is unlimited, meaning our tyres will become greener and greener in the coming future. The automotive industry, in the future, will witness influx of more autonomous vehicles and digital technologies, where lightweight materials will be a key factor in manufacturing of these new age transportation solutions. There always will be a need for space and weight reduction to incorporate latest technologies, while maintaining quality and cost efficiency makes it prerequisite for manufacturers to use lightweight materials. Amidst widespread change in vehicle systems and architecture, get ready for a revolution in the automotive industry. The new age vehicle eco-system is closer than we imagine.