THE FUTURE OF MOBILITY
The story of humanity is also the story of mobility. Over the millennia, our species has spread across the globe, subjecting its living environments to ever-increasing traffic flows. This development is now reaching its limits: traffic density, climate change, air pollution, and accident victims call for safer and more sustainable mobility solutions. Bühler contributes to this with its Advanced Materials business.
“All human activity is prompted by desire,” said the philosopher Bertrand Russell. He also said some of these wishes “can never be fully gratified.” One of our most relentless desires has always been to discover, explore, and settle in new places, something that has defined our species since its very beginnings.
What else could explain the Russian town of Oymyakon, whose 500 inhabitants live on permanently frozen ground with 21 hours of darkness a day during winter, and which once recorded a low of minus 67°C? Or Dallol in Ethiopia, where settlers endured annual average temperatures of 34.6°C, the highest ever recorded for an inhabited location on earth? Then there’s the Peruvian town of La Rinconada, which sits at a vertigo-inducing 5,130 meters above sea level, or the island of Tristan Da Cunha, whose 2,400-kilometer distance from the nearest inhabited land mass hasn’t stopped 300 people from making it their home.
No other species has this same drive. And while we’ve always needed to find natural resources, that can only explain part of it. It must simply be something that’s in our genes.
The last century saw the car coming in to play a central role in our lives and our imaginations, and we went on to design our towns and cities around it. With its total number now reaching an estimated 1.2 billion, the car's success has revolutionized our world – and thereby sowed the seeds of the need for change. So successful has been the car that it's bringing the world's most populated cities to a standstill. The average driving speed in ultra-congested Mumbai is now around 8 mph – little more than twice our average walking speed.
More distressing is the rate of accidents. Global road traffic deaths now stand at more than 1.25 million per year, says the World Health Organization, with almost 90% in low- and middle-income countries. And the damage doesn't stop there. Carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter are just some of the harmful emissions from car exhausts, and more than 90% of the world's population now lives in places where air quality exceeds safety limits. With around 3 million deaths a year linked to exposure to air pollution, clearly it's time for transformation.
As the population grows, and with it our consumption of precious resources, the race is on to create sustainable solutions.
By late 2016, car ownership in the world's most populous country had reached a staggering 190 million. With the average car weighing in at something like 1,500 kg, that's a total of 285 billion kg in China alone. That's a lot of car.
Clearly, the heavier a vehicle is, the more energy it uses, with just a 10% reduction in weight estimated to deliver as much as an 8% improvement in fuel efficiency. Researchers have been exploring the possibility of replacing heavy steel car parts with plastic or even wood pulp, but the heaviest part of a car remains its engine.
Bühler – at the forefront of aluminum die-casting machinery – is supporting the automotive industry's efforts to make cars as light as possible with aluminum structural components rather than steel. Today, the average car contains around 180 kg of aluminum, and forecasts say that this will grow to 220 kg by 2025.
The world is increasingly looking toward e-mobility to solve the urgent problem of emissions and dangerously poor air quality, and the development of electric cars is proceeding at a dizzying pace. Charging points will soon be as familiar a sight on our roads as gas stations are now.
Tesla aims to have not just ultra fast electric sports cars but even articulated trucks for sale within a few short years, and Norway has already set an ambitious target that 100% of all new cars sold will be electric, hydrogen, or "plug-in" hybrids by 2025. India, meanwhile, has committed to selling only electric cars to its vast domestic market just five years after that, and China wants to see
5 million electric cars on its roads by 2020.
Electric cars may be low-maintenance, but they need powerful, state-of-the-art batteries, and in order to meet this rapidly growing demand, Bühler has developed a unique process to produce a key component of batteries: the electrode slurry for the positive and negative poles in the battery. With this, the industry is able to enhance the production of batteries and their energy density.
With the appalling death toll on our roads, and studies estimating human error to be the primary cause of all traffic accidents, it seems a logical step to remove humans from the driving equation.
With other potential benefits, including drastically reduced emissions, minimized congestion, and the freeing up of vast areas of land once used for parking spaces, autonomous vehicles have the potential to fundamentally change our mobility system. They represent nothing less than a paradigm shift – a move to a new, truly individualized level of public transport.
A large number of companies are actively developing self-driving technology, and the autonomous taxis already tested in Singapore are just the start. Pittsburgh's streets have seen driverless Ubers, and self-driving trucks have even been delivering refrigerators in California, albeit with a human observer on board – for now. Dubai's ambition to become the world's smartest city, meanwhile, includes a target to have self-driving vehicles account for a quarter of all its journeys by 2030.
These new vehicles demand sophisticated onboard cameras, sensors, head-up displays, lightweight construction, and long-life batteries - all of which are part of Bühler's solution portfolio.
What was once the preserve of science fiction is fast on its way to becoming a reality, with a number of companies now working on developing vehicles that can take to the air.
Dubai has already tested an automated flying taxi service that it hopes to have operational in the next five years, and Chinese multinational Geely – parent company of Volvo – is also investing in flying car technology. Flying taxis and drones benefit from Bühler's process technologies for the production of high-end batteries, sensors, cameras, and more.
One of the main challenges for aspiring flying carmakers is mastering vertical takeoff and landing technology, which does away with the need for a runway and could make traffic jams a thing of the past – on the ground, at least. The fully electric, autonomous Volocopter is designed to transform urban mobility by relieving the strain of road traffic.
So whether it's electric cars, self-driving cars, or flying cars, one thing is certain – we're entering a new dimension in the quest to make mobility more sustainable. The next few years are going to see a complete and dramatic shift in our perceptions of transport and travel. That basic human instinct to discover, develop, and explore remains as powerful as ever.
It's going to be quite a journey.