Pushed by consumer awareness and regulations, automotive manufacturers are looking for new solutions to reduce the impact of car manufacturing and operating on the environment. Here we look at a few innovations that could make the industry more sustainable and promote sustainable car manufacturing.
1. Better fuels, lighter materials and better engines
In the last 30 years, we have slowly shifted from full-lead petrol to E98 and E95. Less lead, better exhaust pipes and particle filters have already allowed us to breathe better air than we would, considering that there are many more cars now.
With the use of lighter materials and more efficient engines, we are also driving cars which use half the petrol of their counterparts of the 1970s.
The search for more efficiency and improvement in the auto sector continues. Sometimes such progress is motivated by economics, like after the 1973 oil crisis, or by safety concerns. Today, the reasons behind these improvements are mostly ecological.
2. When hybrid gets more clever
Hybrid cars promise their owners a return on their investment as in the case of these vehicles petrol usage is optimized by the electric engine. A team of the University of Dresden has developed an algorithm that would allow the EMS (Energy Management System) of hybrid engines to be as much as 50% more efficient, thus providing even more savings to owners.
3. Powering EVs with solar energy
Engineers have taken electric cars one step further and started producing cars powered by sunlight. Hyundai’s Sonata uses solar roof panels to charge. With 6 hours of daily charge, the sunlight would take care of 1300 km per year, based on the current technology. This is a promising new feature for electric cars, especially for light or small cars.
4. Innovations in biofuels
With the growing awareness of the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels, various kinds of biofuels are being investigated. Certain types produced from crops require farmland which may cause deforestation. To avoid such dubious consequences, many chemical companies are now searching for ways to produce biofuels without actually harvesting plants. With its oily consistency and the possibility of being artificially produced and modified in a lab, algae seems to be a promising alternative.
5. Recycling car parts
Cars are durable products that should last for many years. As such, their parts are often not designed to be recycled easily or to degrade naturally or quickly. It is therefore important to make sure that cars are properly disassembled and the best way to do that is to take care of individual parts.
Metal and batteries are already recycled intensively. As regulation progresses, many more parts are now subject to mandatory segregation and recycling.
For plastics, manufacturers like Jaguar are working with BASF so that the plastic from used cars can be reinserted in the manufacturing chain. With rising petrol costs, the large quantity of used materials sorted through segregation has now become a cheaper source of material.
Similarly, carbon fiber recycling has long been a nightmare because the polymers are almost impossible to detach from the fiber, but French utility company Veolia is now experimenting new techniques to allow carbon fiber to have a second or third life.
6. Recycling electric car batteries
In a standard vehicle, the battery remains a fairly simple device, but in an electric car, it contains much more electronics and is much bigger. EV batteries are of the li-ion type which means they use lithium.
While lithium recycling may not be so profitable in small batteries (like smartphone batteries), in the case of electric cars, recycling the battery case, electronics and lithium could be done directly by the car manufacturer (and that, in turn, would boost their sales and a positive image).
A Finnish company Fortum designed a recycling process which would increase the recycling efficiency to 80%. By comparison, glass is recycled with a 90% efficiency.
With 276 million cars for 329 million people in the US (as of 2019), the automotive manufacturing is clearly one of the biggest industries. Everywhere in the world, we rely on vehicles to transport almost all the products we need, and to transport us.
There is a growing need in the developing world for cars. Manufacturing or recycling more, building more efficient and sustainable cars is required by our economy and by the impact of our lifestyle on the environment.