Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wedge Strategy: Increasing Vehicle Efficiencies

The easiest way to reduce fuel consumption is to make the cars lighter. The amount of energy needed to move material is directly related with the total weight of it. By reducing size and weight of cars we can optimize and make use of the infrastructure we already have.

With all the modern products people pay for less weight, laptops, mobile phones, mp3-players etc. are getting smaller and lighter all the time. From this point of view it is very unusual that when it comes to cars people pay for heavier structures. The reason for this is that in transportation people think it is safer to have a big car. A heavy car may be safe to its passengers but to everything outside the moving ton of steel is a leathal projectile that in order to feel safe one needs even heavier vehicle. And also does a car need a rear seat bench when it carries an average of just 1,2 occupants in urban traffic?

In order to meet the goal of cutting carbon emissions we need to make cars lighter and smart as well. Smart so, that if the driver is not driving properly the car could take over the control. These automatic security features would enable us to reduce a lot of weight because we wouldn’t need the safety measures anymore.


In the process of rethinking cars substitutive materials play an essential role. For example duraluminum, fiberglass, carbon fiber or carbon nanotubes are materials to replace steel. Nanotechnology enchanged cars will be stronger than steel ones. This helps to reduce the crucial weight of cars and in the same time it helps to protect the passengers better. Frozen textile structures used in aerospace engineering offer pre-thought answers that just need to be adapted to automobile manufacturing.

When thinking about transportation of goods trucks should be versatile. Many modern trailers are fit to carry different kinds of loads but cooling trailer can’t transport unbotteled milk or gasoline. Specialization can be very limiting. This is were flexible containers come in handy. If fluids and gasses were stored in “bags” they could be transported with the same trailer that could hold anything. Also when considering the ecological point of view it is profitable to reduce the empty truck weight and by doing so increase the potential payload aswell. The only way to drasticly reduce truck weight is to apply composite technology. The faculty of Aerospace Engineering of the Delf University of Technology has developed “Cold Feather”, a prototype of a refrigerated trailer that is 3000 kilograms lighter than traditional cooling trailer.

There are some other examples as well. A Dutch company Prins Dokkum is developing fibre reinforced polymer trailer wheels that are about 45% lighter than aluminium ones and 64% lighter than steel wheels. There’s also been made a composite city bus that weights 999 kg.

Another existing technology is the hybrid car. It is a vehicle which combines a conventional propulsion system with an on-board rechargable energy storage systems. Reduced wear on the gasoline engine means reduced emissions. In addition the use of hybrid cars reduce noise emissions from substantial use of electric motor at low speeds. The city of New York started converting its taxi fleet to hybrids in 2005. In July 2007 375 hybrids were in use. The mayor plans to convert 20% of the remaining 13000 taxis each year.


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