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The impact of technology on our environment

October 11, 2019

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The impact of technology on our environment

With environmental concerns at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the automotive industry is under a lot of pressure. The manufacture and maintenance of cars has a lot to answer for in terms of fossil fuel emissions.

From a used Ford Kuga Titanium, to innovative Tesla electric cars, the automotive industry is considering the needs and priorities of its customers like never before. Let’s take a closer look at some eco-friendly technologies that are changing the automotive landscape and consider what is yet to be done.

In recent years however, technology has opened up new possibilities and the motor industry and the motor industry is constantly adapting.


The impact of the Automotive industry

After coming under scrutiny, the motor industry has gone to extreme lengths to cut its carbon emissions over the last ten years. Over this period, the carbon emissions produced by European car production has dropped by almost 24%. This is despite a huge increase in the number of cars actually produced, which increased from 11.9 million in 2013 to 17 million in 2017.

As well as this, the amount of water used in car production has been reduced by 31% and, amazingly, the amount of waste produced by the industry has fallen by 14%. Not a bad effort for a ten-year period! These statistics evidence the continued commitment from the car industry to minimise its environmental impact.


Green Technology – Where are we heading?

There have been some weird and wonderful innovations put in place to achieve this goal, from plant power to electric roads.

Energy harvesting tyres

Sumitomo Rubber, a company best known for its Falken tyres, has started to develop energy harvesting tyres. The technology behind this invention consists of a small boxed placed inside the tyre, composed of rubber, electrodes and two charged films.

Using ‘frictional charging’ these energy efficient tyres will generate electricity while on the go which will then be used to help power your electric car. It is set to change the game for charging on the go!

Electric Roads
One exciting new project in Sweden is the world’s first electric road. This 2km long stretch of road just outside Stockholm has been fitted with two tracks that can connect to a vehicle via a movable arm attached to the underside of the car. To give you a better idea, the result is not unlike that of a Scalextric track. The method used in this infrastructure is known as ‘dynamic charging’. It is set to resolve the problem of having to regularly stop to charge electric cars.

Another bonus of this electric road is that it costs substantially less than the construction of an urban tram line, at €1m per kilometre

Electric Cars
Thanks to government initiatives and ever-advancing models, pure electric and hybrid cars are becoming more popular all over the world which China having the biggest market for pure electric cars currently.

Backed by enticing government initiatives and cheaper, more varied models, around three quarters of a million pure electric passenger cars were registered there last year. Purchase initiatives for electric cars are also in place in the UK, but only for pure electric cars. Hybrids are no longer eligible.

Despite the evident environmental benefits of electric cars, there is a downside. The actual manufacturing impact of these vehicles is still high, with them taking a lot more energy to product than other vehicles. The production of lithium batteries is highly energy inducing, meaning that the energy used to produce an electric car is around 75% higher than for a conventional car.

Plant based manufacturing

One idea from Polish research group, Selena, is to use weeds to aid the manufacturing process. This process consists of using plant chemicals to synthesise polymers in the lab. This will produce bioplastics that can then be used for 3D printing. 

As the carbon emissions produced from the manufacture of a car could be just as high as the emissions it ever produces while being driven, the manufacturing process desperately needs updating.  

Development director, Wojciech Komala described Selena’s work by saying, “We lower the carbon footprint by using bio-based sources and by trying to develop lighter components for the cars." Both methods could forecast the future of green automotive technology.


What can we expect to see in the future?

Car manufacturing companies are frequently making big claims and promises, eager to prove to the public that they have the state of the environment in mind.

One of example of this is Ford, which has disclosed plans to start making its car carpets out of recycled plastic bottles. And BMW is pushing for full recycled plastic interiors.   

Despite all these exciting an innovative change, there is a long way to go when it comes to reducing carbon emissions in the automotive industry. One area that still needs vast improvement is the manufacturing stage. Developments must be made to equipment such as nozzles and hoses to improve efficiency. The use of lighter materials, such as aluminium as opposed to cast iron, could also reduce factory emissions.

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