The World is moving at a rapid pace in terms of automotive technological development. Inevitably development is achieved at the cost of Mother Nature. Therefore, a huge guilt of humanity exists in each and every one of us. The guilt of not able to provide better hospitable living conditions, for our future offspring’s is making mankind search for greener technology. At least, implement green technology in a symbiotic relationship with existing polluting ones. Try and erase some of the guilt. And how successful it has been! Billions of dollars are spent in the search for feasible green technology and finally thanks to the advancement in the cutting edge sciences such as Nanotechnology, Corporates across the world have come with concepts which they claim will significantly reduce the carbon footprint.

Renaissance Of The Wheel

The humble Wheel as we know has its origin most likely in ancient Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BC. The invention of the wheel thus falls in the late Neolithic and may be seen in conjunction with the other technological advances that gave rise to the early Bronze Age.

But the Boffins at Michelin have given an entirely new functionality to the Wheel. Imagine if one could just strap on a pair of wheels to one’s favorite couch and couple it with a battery pack and a rudimentary steering mechanism, you are looking at the most advanced form of transportation. It does not require any engine to run.

Michelin demonstrated two intertwined concepts at the Challenge Bibendum 2004, held in Shanghai, China. One of the concepts was the Hy-Light, is a light vehicle that weighs just 850 kg and is fuel cell propelled. Besides being an almost pollution-free car, the Hy-Light integrates active wheels. The idea was remarkably simple. There is plenty of empty space in a tire, so why not fill it with something useful? So the active wheels of the Hy-Light contain a traction motor to turn the wheel and all suspension components such as springs. Michelin intends to share this technology with car makers and expects it should be integrated in our cars within ten to fifteen years.

A wheel equipped with Michelin’s active wheel technology appears from the outside to be a standard wheel and tire package. But on the inside, it houses an active suspension unit, a drive motor and braking components. Voila! Complete mobility solution in a Wheel. Car makers in the near future will have to start building their cars around the wheel instead of the engine. What a difference that would make!

Electric motors not only turn the wheels, but can be used to slow and stop them, so traditional disc or drum brakes might eventually be eliminated, or at least reduced to smaller, redundant systems. And by using electric motors to turn the wheels, large and heavy transmissions and differentials become obsolete. These motors provide peak torque output of 1000Nm per wheel which enables phenomenal acceleration force of 1g. This kind of acceleration is seen in Formula 1.

With Michelin’s active wheel system, vehicle designers could become more creative because suspension components that now intrude on interior space would be repackaged within each of the vehicle’s four wheels, creating more room for people and cargo.

Challenge Bibendum 2007

With China’s car use expanding as rapidly as its supercharged economy, Michelin decided to hold its annual Challenge Bibendum in traffic-choked Shanghai. The event, now in its ninth year, showcased the latest developments in green car technology.

Where 20 years ago the streets were full of bicycles, now the car is king and it is choking the city. Rather than trying to persuade people to drive cars less frequently, the solution proposed by the auto industry is to make cars greener.

Hybrids, it seems is the most popular solution to combat the problem of pollution and more importantly Global Warming. Any vehicle which combines two or more different sources of power to propel the vehicle is termed as a Hybrid. However, it is not that simple as it seems. There are different kinds of Hybrid implementations out there and each manufacturer touting that theirs is the best. Let’s take a look at the different types of hybrids out there in the market.

Electric-Internal Combustion Hybrid: These are the more ubiquitous ones found in the market. A petrol / diesel engine is mated to an electric motor. The electric motor is used to propel the vehicles from standstill especially at the traffic lights and the main petrol / diesel engine kicks in only when higher speeds are required. In lighter cars the electric motor is used to putter around the city at low speeds thus conserving the fuel and contributing significantly less to the carbon footprint. The electric motor also charges the batteries while braking through ‘regenerative braking’.

Fuel Cell Hybrid: It involves a hydrogen fuel cell generator teamed up with Lithium ion batteries. The generator powers an electric motor which is in turn coupled with a normal engine. However, auto manufacturers have come with concepts of stand alone fuel cell vehicles.

Hydraulic Hybrid: Hydraulic hybrids use an engine to charge a pressure accumulator to drive the wheels via hydraulic drive units. A hydraulic accumulator replaces the batteries.

Pneumatic Hybrid: This concept uses compressed air to power a hybrid car. The car runs on fossil fuel while the compressor refills the compressed air tanks.

Silicon Implants For Greener Tires

Now ladies, if this idea catches up you are looking at sky rocketing prices for silicon…ahem…silica that is. I guess that was bit of an over statement since silica is available abundantly in nature. Who would have guessed natural elements/products found in the nature would be used in technology to save nature from technology. Okay, my mind is spinning after that one. Here is the deal. Michelin in a never ending pursuit of reducing carbon footprint had come up with the Energy Tire. And it was a great success. However very few people were aware of it, me included. In 1992, Michelin came up with a concept of using silica in the tread of the tire to reduce rolling resistance to about 20% when compared to its normal tires without affecting performance and grip. If a tire has a certain degree of rolling resistance then the engine has to exert more energy to overcome the resistance. This means more fuel consumption. Thus, the Energy Tire with its reduced rolling resistance saves fuel consumption thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Overdrive magazine reports that Michelin Energy Saver (the new moniker for the tire) reduces 0.2 liters/100km. This equates to a reduction of 4g/km of CO2/km. In other words, Michelin invented a tire that prevents nearly one ton of carbon dioxide being released into the air.

Your Footprint Can Affect The Environment !

Footprint here refers to the “Carbon Footprint”. A Carbon Footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases we produce. It is measured in units of carbon dioxide. Burning of fossil fuels including domestic energy consumption, transportation, lifecycle of products we use (their manufacture and eventual breakdown) all contribute to our carbon footprint. We can reduce our carbon footprint by following some basic steps:

  • Use of solar water heaters can result in significant reductions in electricity and gas bills (especially in the metros).
  • Use bicycles to work. Does wonders for your fitness and stamina. Try walking for short distances. Carpooling and use of public transport where ever and whenever possible.
  • Big corporations can tap natural energy sources for their energy requirements.
  • Turn off lights, taps and computer monitors when not in use. Set water heaters to a lower temperature in summers (reduction in a couple of degree C’s will make a significant saving in electricity over the season).

Sources: Nick Mead for The Guardian, Larry Edsall, for The Detroit News, Overdrive Magazine, Michelin, Challenge Bibendum

Advertisements