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Driving into the World of Future Cars, New Mobility & Materials

Sreeparna Das – Jan 22, 2018

TAGS:  Automotive      Electrical & Electronics    

Driving into the World of Future Cars, New Mobility & MaterialsWith the fast progressing technology, soon you’ll most likely be reading this article while driving your car!

Wait... really?
Yes, because your car will drive for itself!

Autonomous vehicles (AV) are much closer to reality now. In fact, recently Volvo signed an agreement with Uber to sell tens of thousands of autonomous drive compatible cars. This is planned between 2019 and 2021.

There are of course several other Automotive OEMs (GM, Faurecia, Tesla, BMW…) that are working on AVs. Outside the realm of Auto OEMs, also joining the bandwagon are Google, Apple and Baidu to name a few!

Along with autonomous technology, several other concurrent trends are aligning themselves.

Electrification of the powertrain is one such trend that is not a new concept anymore. But this trend is growing rapidly, thanks to stringent emission laws (and diesel gate). In fact, recently it was reported that sales for electric and hybrid cars overtook gas and diesel in Norway in 2017.

Additionally, in the era of Internet of Things (IoT), connectivity will be a key requirement for cars as well. Whether it is for finding shorter routes & parking or preventive car maintenance, new and better sensors will be needed.

And when it comes to mobility trends, the one that seems a direct result of growing traffic and reducing space is car sharing. This is challenging the concept of “ownership” of vehicles. This may mean that in future we will use a specific car for a specific purpose - say city vs long distance (not all owned).

Advancement in Electric Cars Based on Various Parameters
Factors driving Mobility Trends
Source: Faurecia

So, let’s change gears and accelerate on to these interesting mobility trends in more details.

Towards a Driver-less Reality

Autonomous Driving Technology
Image credit: Hanyang University (WMF 2017)

There are several perceived benefits of autonomous driving (AD) technology. The most important ones being:

  • Safety (lesser accidents due to human errors)
  • Reduced driving stress
  • Increased mobility for older people

But there are some unknowns as well, especially the liability and legislative aspects. However, once these can be taken care of and people start to trust the technology - the adoption of AVs is forecasted to grow.

Recently, at the WMF 2017, there were great presentations from Volvo, Faurecia and Hanyang University that shared some of the interesting trends & concepts.

5 Levels of Autonomous Cars

  • Level 1 - Longitudinal OR transverse guide
  • Level 2 - Longitudinal AND transverse guide
  • Level 3 - Take over request
  • Level 4 - No take over request
  • Level 5 - Driver-less

How to Design Autonomous Cars?

Volvo believes that it is the next premium characteristic. Car design will vary with the level of autonomy (4 or 5). But this offers a real opportunity to revolutionize car interiors. Especially the idea of no steering wheel makes the design possibilities endless!

Let’s take a look at the ideas & requirements for designing an AV

  • LIFE - DRIVE architecture: The unique architecture allows the distribution of vehicle weight optimally across both axles.

LIFE Module
LIFE module

  • New structure and material design (more Space and safer with Autonomous Driving Assistant System)
  • Plastics & Composites or Hybridization
  • More thermoplastics (recyclable)
  • Continuous fibers! Short fibers
  • Injection, SMC, Hybrid Insert, LFT
DRIVE Module
DRIVE module
  • Steel & Aluminum
  • Power train
  • Li-Ion Battery, New Battery (Zinc-Air) or Fuel Cell

Source: Hanyang University

  • To be designed “inside-out” to cater for more space and functions inside. This is unlike traditional cars where “outside-in” approach is used (exterior styling & safety)
  • Lighter weight designs
  • New crash tests and safety regulations needed
  • Assistance & Safety with Artificial Intelligence (AI)
    • ADAS - Autonomous Driving Assistant System
    • LIDAR (light detection and ranging) monitors the vehicle surroundings
    • GPS - for accurate positioning
    • Ultrasonic sensors - to measure object distance
    • Parking assistance and collision avoidance
  • Sensor & Structure Health Monitoring

More interesting literature is available on the topic of AVs at the DAIKIN Mobility Lab.

Electric Vehicles in, Emissions out

Wide feedstock & low energy consumption will be key drivers of electrification. According to Volvo, the Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) market is expected multiply by 4 by 2020. Most of the OEMs are announcing new models. However, there will be a need for variety of EVs (plugin, full BEV, hybrid...).

Innovations in faster charging, induction charging will provide additional boost. Daimler, BMW, Ford and Volkswagen plan to electrify Europe by installing hundreds of fast-charging stations. In January 2017, Ford unveiled a pilot program in Europe and the U.S. that will provide wireless induction charging of electric cars. This will involve the use of surface pad in parking area that generates an electromagnetic field.

At the WMF 2017, Faurecia’s Patrick Koller quoted interesting data from McKinsey Center for Future Mobility. According to them, many different powertrains will co-exist driven by different urbanization patterns.

Powertrain Types Depending on Urbanization
Source: McKinsey Center for Future Mobility via Faurecia

In fact, they also have data on the mobility trend that would be most likely per city archetype.

City Archetype Mobility Trend
High income, dense cities Seamless mobility Most likely to opt for radically different mobility system.
High income suburban sprawl Private autonomy Predicted to have a high uptake of EV/AV but with current ownership models intact.
Low income, dense cities Clean & shared AV adoption likely to remain very low while EV and shared mobility accelerate

Source: McKinsey Center for Future Mobility via Faurecia

EV will be the common thread - being part of both mainstream and premium.

Now that we’ve covered AV & EV technologies, let’s take a look at the shared mobility concept…

Shared Mobility: Car Pool is the New Cool

The benefits of shared mobility, as pointed out by Vijay Gurbaxani from the University of California, are several. These include:

  • Higher asset utilization of cars and fewer cars sold (though lifetime might be shorter)
  • Lower need for highway expansion
  • Reduced demand for parking
  • Higher demand for mass transportation (buses and trains)

Overall, shared services should lead to significantly lower demand for and shift in materials used.

Real Life Example: Autolib', The Full Electric Car-sharing Service for Paris

It is one of the first and largest EV car-sharing services, which has been a commercial success. This shows that the general public is interested in car-sharing. Autolib’ rides with green electricity and has been a real-life test for the technology in actual conditions.

Some interesting facts from Autolib’ (as on June 2017):

 − 100 towns
 − 4,000 Bluecar vehicles
 − 6,300 charging points
 − 340,000 subscribers (since Dec 2011)
 − 21 million rentals
 − 200 million km

Electric-car Sharing Services
Source: BlueSolutions

How Materials can Help Transform Mobility & What are the Challenges?

Now that we know about the trends and where the industry is headed, it is time to see how materials come into the picture.

We at SpecialChem, recently did a survey to ask our community of material engineers about the specific challenges posed to materials.

Here are the results:

SpecialChem Survey on Material Challenges

We identified 3 main segments of challenges –


Overall energy aspects pose the maximum challenge for material engineers. Enhanced energy storage (electrical, H2…) was voted as the most critical challenge. This, along with faster and easier battery recharge was found to be the most difficult challenge for materials to solve.

As expected, weight reduction is seen as the most critical design challenge but is clearly not one of the most difficult to address. This is because materials are already in an advanced stage when it comes to lightweighting.

Similarly hygiene / odor control in vehicle interiors will be one of the most critical challenges to solve. But, reduced degradation of car interiors was voted as the most difficult to address challenge with materials.

While several challenges exist, what is clear is that when it comes to materials the mantra is going to be:

  − Use SMART
  − Use LESS
  − Use LONGER

Multi-purpose smart materials will be the need of the hour to overcome mobility challenges.

Material Mantra for Transforming Mobility
8 KPIs for Material Use Discussed at WMF 2017
Source: Solvay

Recyclability will also be a key aspect to ensure closed loop and success for circular economy. Therefore, we have to move from solutions that enabled lightweighting OR recycling to those that enable lightweighting AND recycling.

Meeting New Mobility Demands: Materials of Importance

To realize the needs of new mobility, following are some of the key materials that will play a critical role in Lightweighting, Batteries, Sensors...

Carbon Fiber & Thermoplastic Composites

Carbon fiber offers the biggest weight advantage and new design opportunities.

Key players have announced expansions of CF Business / Production in 2017:

Carbon Fiber Offering New Design Opportunities
Use of CFRP in Lightweighting
Source: Arkema

However, high costs (precursor + energy intensive production) and poor recyclability are some of the drawbacks.

Good news is that there are significant advances in research on Lignin-based precursors (cheaper and greener) for carbon fibers production (EU H2020 - LIBRE, WSU…)

Also, at the WMF 2017, Hexcel presented their initiatives to promote recycling of carbon fibers.

Recycling of Carbon Fiber

Hexcel has taken an investment in Carbon Conversions Incorporated (CCI) with the goal to recycle and repurpose Carbon fiber.

  • Recycle (dry carbon fiber and cured CFRP from manufacturing and end of life)
  • Reuse (dry carbon fiber and uncured prepreg)

Obtaining Useful Raw Materials

Hexcel Future Material Development Focus

Recycling and Reuse is viable today – if designers are open to using qualified CFRP product forms.

Aerospace industry, one of the biggest consumers of CFRP, is moving fast towards newer composites rather than sticking to metals and thermoset prepegs only. Collaboration between Solvay, UAC and AeroComposit resulted in breakthrough resin infusion technology for advanced Aero primary structures. This gives:

  • More design flexibility
  • Allows manufacturing of large, complex and integrated parts
  • More manufacturing throughput
  • Faster and less manufacturing steps

Solvay says future innovations will include Thermoplastic prepregs, Rapid cure...; Full Automation & Full recycling.

Thermoset Prepegs
Source: Solvay

And Airbus confirms the need for newer composites and the move towards increased recycling. In addition, additive manufacturing will play a key role here.

And talking about new composites, UBE Exsymo has developed an innovative thermoplastic composite that is:
  • Thermoformable
  • Impact resistant
  • Lighter than carbon fiber
  • Stronger than most plastics

It also enables short production cycle at lower temperature for cost reduction while being 100% recyclable.

Smart Sensors of Tomorrow - Piezoelectric Polymers

Among polymers, poly vinylidene fluoride (PVDF) & its copolymers exhibit high level of piezolectricity. PVC and nylon are other polymer examples but not in the same league as PVDF. Also ceramics are used to develop piezoelectric films for sensors.

Piezoelectric Sensors
Source: Solvay

With increased connectivity, sensors will be indispensable in future cars and other applications. This will drive the innovation for such materials.

Battery Materials - Lithium, Graphite and More

Li-Ion Battery According to stats: by 2030

 − Demand for Li Ion battery would be above 700 GWh
 − Price would be ~$73/KWh
 − Cumulative copper demand from electric vehicles - can grow 15x

Estimated Reserves for Lithium: 17 MT to 25 MT; with Bolivia + Chile + Argentina with more than 15 MT, but the good news is that energy / kg is increasing, which means more kilometers per kilo of Lithium.

Conducting additives (graphite, carbon black) are also needed for lifespan and fast charging of EV Li-Ion batteries. Graphite demand for these batteries is expected to grow at 21%/ year.

With the drive towards full electrification, many other minerals and materials would see growth in demand in the coming years!

Lastly, I would like to leave you with this video that showcases new concept of Urban Mobility (combining Land & Air travel). The possibilities are truly endless!

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