A recent birth upped the planet’s population to seven billion people. If that symbolic baby girl from Manila acquires her driver’s license some day, she will probably start spending lots of time in traffic jams. Today there are over 800 million passenger cars and trucks on the road worldwide.
By 2035 we can expect two billion motor vehicles in the world, particularly due to the rapid growth in Brazil, India, and China. Studies are forecasting that there will be a big annual increase of 36 percent in the number of car owners in China alone. That means not only more fuel consumption and greater strain on the environment — traffic congestion will also become much worse. For many people, being stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work is already an everyday occurrence. Mobility worldwide has a problem — everything is at a standstill.
No wheels turning
The urbanization megatrend is one reason that it’s getting more and more crowded on the planet. Growing numbers of people are moving from the countryside to cities. There are currently 27 megacities with over five million inhabitants on the atlas, and the growth is continuing. In 2011 more than half of the world’s population was living in cities, for the first time in history. If population growth continues at this pace, by 2050 there will be 9.2 billion people on the planet, and three quarters of them will live in cities. Then there will no longer be room for cars, as we know them today, in the overcrowded areas of urban sprawl.
The car is dead — long live the car
For mobility researchers, the automobile is a status symbol that has meanwhile almost become a synonym for a scenery that no one wants any more and that the planet can no longer afford. But: “Even a total of two billion cars wouldn’t be a disaster in itself,” writes California-based mobility expert Dan Sperling in his book Two Billion Cars. But there must be a fundamental reversal of the trend toward bigger and bigger vehicles with increasingly powerful engines. That applies above all to Europe and North America; in Brazil and Japan, compact cars have been the most common vehicles on the roads for a long time now. With environmental awareness on the rise, in the future they will set the trend due to the considerable savings they offer in terms of purchase prices and maintenance. “Small,” “lightweight,” and “environmentally friendly” are the unseen watchwords above the automakers’ drawing boards.
Lightweight engineering is in demand
In addition to the classic combustion engine, drive concepts for electric mobility are gaining ground. In 2025, according to forecasts, vehicles with combustion engines will still account for 50 percent of the industry’s sales, but ten percent of new vehicles sold will be electric-powered automobiles and 40 percent will be hybrid vehicles. These shifts will change the mobility sector’s current value chain, not only for original equipment manufacturers and suppliers, but also for power utilities and third-party providers. Technical plastics, for example, are materials with great potential that are playing a supporting role in the trend toward lightweight automotive engineering. But plastics offer not only the benefit of weight reduction; they also lead to entirely new construction and design possibilities. Another advantage is that in mass production even complex components made of plastic can be produced in fewer steps, making them less costly to manufacture than metal parts. What’s more, the requirements of a new generation of drivers will also shape the cars of the future. Information services and high-performance connectivity will play an increasingly important role in the future, leading to a convergence of the automotive and IT industries. Companies will need flexibility to successfully deal with the entirely new constellations and challenges that emerge.
A completely different approach to the mobility of tomorrow is based on fuels produced from renewable raw materials, which therefore have a neutral CO2 balance. Biodiesel from rapeseed, sunflower oil, palm oil or jatropha nuts — that sounds like a great idea at first. But for these fuels to be suitable for everyday needs, their storage life must be extended by adding biodiesel stabilizers such as Baynox plus from LANXESS. Only then do the environmentally friendly biofuels have the storage life and utility required for widespread use.
Sharing and saving
New concepts are gaining ground
To meet tomorrow’s needs, mobility must be reinvented in all areas. In addition to highly efficient compact passenger cars with connectivity, innovative mobility concepts are also in demand. Strategies already in use, such as car sharing and community vehicles, are pointing the way forward. With the total number of users reaching into six figures, Germany has quietly developed into the biggest car sharing market in Europe, followed by the UK and Switzerland. Already today, the car sharing model is much less costly for users than driving a comparable vehicle of one’s own, provided the total kilometers driven and time charges don’t exceed the cost-effectiveness threshold, which usually falls between 10,000 and 20,000 kilometers a year. And car sharing benefits people and the environment in a number of ways. In almost all cases the car sharing companies provide a fleet of new and late-model vehicles. The drivers aren’t limited to one type of vehicle or even one model. They can choose the car or van that is exactly right for their situation at any given moment. The costs for a vehicle purchase, parking space or garage rentals, motor vehicle tax and insurance premiums are eliminated completely. If you don’t drive, you don’t pay. Particularly in densely populated urban areas, car sharing supplements public transportation services, walking and bicycling, ensuring a full spectrum of mobility options.
A promising vision: Electromobility
With microcars and e-bikes, a new generation of quick transport options are in the starting blocks. At the LANXESS Automotive Day 2011 in Brazil, Christopher Borroni-Bird, Director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts at General Motors, pointed out: “Electromobility is opening up new potential of various types of new materials that are more environmentally friendly, more affordable, and more comfortable. I’m confident that this is a very interesting vision for the future — for LANXESS too.” Saltigo is already producing vinylene carbonate, an important ingredient for lithium-ion batteries. One area of application for this type of high-performance battery is energy storage in hybrid vehicles. Another technology people have high hopes for is the fuel cell, which generates power from hydrogen and oxygen, releasing only harmless water vapor into the environment. The principle first became known 170 years ago, but the technology is only now becoming mature enough for everyday use. That’s thanks to factors including a new generation of ion exchangers that LANXESS has developed in cooperation with leading automakers.
High-tech materials for the mobility of the future
People all over the world have growing demands when it comes to mobility, and mobility needs are also becoming more varied. People want more economical and more environmentally friendly automobiles that don’t involve making sacrifices in terms of safety and comfort. That means challenges for suppliers — while also opening up opportunities for them if they can offer the right products. Suppliers like LANXESS. High-performance plastics like Durethan are being used as a composite material with steel or aluminum to produce body parts that can withstand the highest loads but are up to 40 percent lighter than conventional parts. Organic sheet made of woven glass fiber and Durethan are even 100 percent metal-free. Plastics already account for up to 20 percent of the automotive materials mix; after all, a 100-kilogram weight reduction results in fuel savings that can reach a half liter per 100 kilometers. Hartwig Meier, Head of Product and Application Development at LANXESS’ High Performance Materials business unit, is convinced: “In the future, conventional areas of applications for plastics, like those in the engine compartment, will be transferred to parts and components related to the vehicles structural aspects. That’s new; such elements determine the overall performance of an automobile.”
As a specialty chemicals company, LANXESS provides premium products and innovative technologies that contribute to the creation of environmentally friendly solutions needed for green mobility. You’ll find further coverage of this topic in the LANXESS WebMagazine under “Green Mobility”.