Automobile innovations that can help save the planet

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writer icon Liana Andersen     Goran Horvat   |   Tech     🕐 21. Jan. 2019

From its creation in the assembly line until it is dumped at the scrapyard, a typical car leaves a significant carbon footprint. A NASA study revealed that the automobile industry was the largest net contributor to climate change pollution in the world. But, some aspects are beginning to change.

Modern advancements have improved fuel efficiency and carbon emissions, and hybrid cars have become mainstream, reducing dependence on diesel and gas. Certain up-and-coming automobile innovations look to have a positive environmental impact as well.

Using clean energy in the production line 
Car manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware of the impacts that automobile production has on the environment. For example, Tesla is now powering their Nevada factory using solar. Similarly, hydro and wind power company Skellefteå Kraft is teaming up with Northvolt, to build a car factory in Sweden that is run on hydropower. Indicating a shift in values within the automobile production industry.

Better materials
Improvements in car production have also led to the use of 'better' materials. For instance, improvements in assembly processes and techniques, have reduced the weight of vehicles. One example is the Citroën C4 Cactus, that weighs 200 kilograms less than the earlier Citroën C4. More efficient batteries for electric cars such as lithium metal batteries, that can triple travel distance, are also cropping up. Researchers at University of Surrey & University of Bristol, are making forays into a new polymer conductor technology, that can improve energy transfer and storage capacity of EV batteries.

AI and telematics
Innovations in telematics are paving the way for more efficient transport, where artificial intelligence advancements are allowing truck companies to monitor their fleets’ driving habits, remotely. Verizon Connect UK finds fleet tracking software to be an effective tool to monitor fuel consumption, and emissions. Using these types of software, computers can assist in minimising fuel usage and mileage through optimised routes. If rolled out industry-wide, a significant reduction can be seen in the sector’s overall emission levels. Considering that autonomous cars are within touching distance, this tech is at the forefront of future traffic management.

Solar-powered cars 
Solar energy is still the most practical form of sustainable energy available, and many companies are moving towards this direction. Munich-based startup Sono Motors is ready to roll out 5,000 units of the electric solar vehicle, Sion. Similarly, the Dutch startup Lightyear is releasing its first all-electric masterpiece, Lightyear One, which the company claims can go for months without having to charge. In addition, the first solar-powered train was unveiled in New South Wales, Australia through the efforts of Byron Bay Railroad Company.

The world can expect more from this field, as recent developments are on the verge of creating fully-rechargeable transport options, that are independent of fossil fuel.

Stop-and-start and other smart technologies
In Europe in particular, most cars are equipped with stop-and-start technology, where the car automatically stops fuel consumption when the vehicle is stationary. This tech is particularly useful in urban areas where traffic is heavier. With the arrival of smart cars and smart cities, cars can also be synced with traffic data. Smart technologies can use information and driving behaviour to not only improve fuel efficiency but also to make cars last longer, effectively reducing waste.

While solutions to climate change are not limited to production and use of cars, automobile innovations may serve to influence consumer behaviour, as well as the values held by the automobile industry.

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