Social and environmental pressures are placing demands on the transport industry, from the speed that people travel, to the impact their journey has. Emissions from road vehicles in the USA, for instance, contribute to one third of total air pollution. The health crisis arising from places increasing strain on healthcare.
Significant change is needed or this will get worse. Car use in many emerging economies remains low, but this won’t last. And CO2 emissions will rise as more of the world’s population buy their own vehicles.
Where there is already significant car ownership, governments are setting increasingly strict targets. In the European Union, for example, car manufacturers will need to comply with a maximum average CO2 emission of 95 g/km by 2021, compared to 135g in 2015.
This is a sizeable drop, and vehicle manufacturers are seeking new ways to include eco-friendly social innovation processes into their products. Hitachi for instance is at the forefront of engine technology with designs for hybrid car engines and low energy train engines that increase efficiency by utilising outside-world information.
New engine technology—more efficient combustion, electric cars and trains—is being developed to ensure that the exhaust from vehicles carries the lowest possible carbon footprint, or stops altogether. Ultra-clean engines burn less fuel, reducing emissions as well as saving cost.
Electric power has been a particularly significant trend for privately-owned vehicles. Increasingly though the focus has been shifting commercial vehicles (trucks, vans and taxis) which account for a significant amount of air pollution in cities. In the UK, energy regulator Ofgem has approved the world’s biggest trial of commercial electric vehicles which will test the end-to-end impacts of this type of transport on commercial viability as well as pollution.
Innovative engine control and electric powertrain technologies enable size and weight reductions, while enhancing control efficiency. Hitachi Automotive Systems is developing advanced control systems required for electric vehicles, including motors, inverters and lithium-ion batteries.
But it doesn’t stop there. Connected vehicle technologies are becoming a prominent feature on the global transport landscape. Telematics, for instance—the combination of GPS systems and on-board diagnostics—make it possible to map both a car’s journey and its internal behaviour.
Drivers can monitor the health of their vehicle by using data from the vehicle itself. For instance, if it is producing too much C02, this will register, and the vehicle can improve its cruising speed. If you operate a fleet of trucks, then real-time information about the status of all your vehicles is available at the flick of a switch.
Engine efficiency is vital if the contribution our vehicles are making towards C02 output is to be reduced.
Not all engines need fossil fuels. More and more vehicles are powered by electricity. But electric cars and lorries depend on batteries. And these batteries are often heavy (which impacts the efficiency of the vehicle they power), quick to deplete, and time consuming to recharge. Worse, they last a finite number of recharging cycles and when they finally require scrapping they can be hard to recycle.
To move away from fossil fuels we need better batteries. Engineers are looking at materials that allow high capacity storage. Silicon is being trialled to replace the graphite in batteries. And new ways of carrying lithium ions between the battery’s cathode and anode, including glass and ceramics, are being tried as a replacement for liquid electrolytes.
Battery charging is evolving too. Stopping to recharge a battery is inconvenient. Solar powered cars, or cars that pick up charge as they are in contact with the surface of the road, are feasible future developments.
The manufacture of batteries needed for electric cars, which itself is a contributor towards rising pollution levels, is easily offset by the increased efficiency and emissions savings made over the lifespan of a car. The initial outlay of purchasing an electric car—generally more expensive than petrol cars—is similarly offset by the overall cheaper cost of running it.
As time goes on and pressures on the energy and vehicle industries grow, even more innovative new technologies are likely to come into being. Ultimately, the production of vehicles, and the competition that comes with it, will depend on methods of powering transport that are the most energy efficient, and the most satisfying for the end user.
We’re not quite there yet, but the rapid developments of the past decade when it comes to smart energy and technology has fired the pistons and put the wheels in motion towards that ultimate goal.
Our world faces a number of challenges, from climate change and pollution to population growth and urbanisation. Hitachi believes that it must help to find innovative and commercially viable solutions for these challenges. Visit Social-Innovation.Hitachi to learn how Social Innovation is helping Hitachi improve lives across the world.
Image under licence from iStockPhoto.co.uk, credit alengo