ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno
The world is slowly moving towards decarbonisation. In cities, road traffic is responsible for 40% of nitrogen oxide emissions, according to the European Commission. Cities like Barcelona, Stockholm and Berlin have already banned the most polluting vehicles from some of their neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, companies and researchers around the world are experimenting with different technologies to accelerate the transition to green urban mobility.
LiDAR and radar technology
LiDAR sensors emit light pulses to determine the distances of the objects around them, thereby producing a 3D map of the scene. This technology, which is also used by archaeologists to reveal ruins hidden by vegetation or buried underground, can be especially useful in the case of autonomous cars. LiDAR sensors are used by vehicles to detect obstacles and determine the direction to drive.
With electric and driverless vehicles, everything points to new sustainable mobility coming to our roads. Manufacturers like General Motors, Ford, Hyundai and Volkswagen have thought about investing in these types of sensor, but they face some limitations in making this technology a success, according to a report by Digitimes Research.
Legislation on autonomous cars is still at an early stage and has barely advanced in many countries, which leads some companies such as Audi to consider to what extent to invest in the sector. This is compounded by the high costs of these sensors – over $200 – which makes it unlikely that their use will be widespread in autonomous vehicles, as Digitimes Research reports.
On the other hand, there are companies such as Tesla or Nissan that are opting for radar technology. This is a system that also operates to detect the presence of distant objects. It works in a similar way to LiDAR sensors but uses radio waves instead of lasers. While LiDAR may present difficulties in detecting objects in rain, snow or fog, radar works well in all weather conditions. On the downside, this latest technology has less lateral resolution, so it can lose sight of other vehicles when cornering.
Technologies such as 5G not only optimizes production, accelerating processes, but also contributes to making factories less polluting. Credit: Ford.
5G to speed up car production
Some manufacturers have started to introduce 5G networks into the car production process. An example of this is Ford, which has received aid from the British government to implement this technology in its electric vehicle factories. The enormous amount of data generated by the machines in its installations in Dunton (United Kingdom) will travel through a Vodafone 5G network to be analysed by artificial intelligence systems in order to improve the manufacturing processes.
5G networks offer much wider bandwidth that enables faster connections and promises lower latency in data transmission. Latency is the time it takes for a device to execute an order from the moment the signal is sent. The lower the latency, the faster the transmission. In this way, 5G allows factories to act in real time with greater speed in the face of any change.
Audi has also sought to use this technology to create fully connected factories. In 2018 it signed an agreement with Ericsson to test 5G in the Audi Production Laboratory in Gaimsersheim, Germany. The aim was to use the potential of this technology to control different robots that are involved in the production process and are connected to each other wirelessly.
At present, Norway is the country in which electric cars have the greatest market share (69%), according to EV Volumes. It is followed by Iceland (49%), Sweden (26%), Finland (16%), the Netherlands (12%) and Portugal (12%). But there is still much to be done to achieve decarbonisation. In countries such as Spain, the market penetration of this type of vehicle remains low. In this context, some researchers are trying to develop technologies to reduce polluting emissions from existing cars.
The Polytechnic University of Valencia and the multinational electronic manufacturing company Littelfuse are developing new ignition technologies to reduce emissions from vehicles equipped with combustion motors. "In the coming years, despite the increase in electric vehicles, it is expected that approximately 98% of cars will still be powered, exclusively or partially, by an internal combustion engine, whether it be diesel, gasoline or, to a lesser extent, gas," the researchers say.
To achieve more environmentally friendly combustion engines, they focus on improving the performance of the engine's ignition system. They have a test engine and replicate in the laboratory how it behaves in a real driving situation. In this way they can emulate all possible operating conditions and check that the gases emitted by the engine comply with scenarios derived from future regulations.
Hydrogen vehicles are a promising alternative on the road to green mobility, but the lack of hydropower plants and high prices make it difficult to deploy them massively. Credit: Toyota.
Fuel cell system
Clean mobility is not just about electric cars; other options such as biofuels or hydrogen also have a seat at the table. This last element, besides being the most abundant in the universe, is presented as a green alternative. Fuel cell systems generate electricity from a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen and do not generate polluting emissions.
There are already different vehicles of this type on the market. For example, the Toyota Mirai, the Audi H-tron Quattro Concept, the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell and the Hyundai Nexo. They usually have a range of about 500 kilometres and can be refuelled in about five minutes. But the lack of hydrogen generators in most European countries and the high price of the vehicles are an obstacle to their widespread adoption.
Hydrogen is regarded as a promising alternative, but everything points to the coexistence of all types of environmentally friendly vehicles in the future. This is why manufacturers are diversifying the vehicles they produce. Taiyo Kawai, project manager of Toyota's R&D and management engineering division, predicts that small vehicles used for short distances will probably be electric. The hybrid electric car and the plug-in hybrid electric car will be used for "intermediate distances," and the fuel cell system will be used in large vehicles that travel long distances.