Time to read: 8 minutes

How sustainability is changing the future of mobility?

By: Yann Schnerb

Urban mobility is being upended with the acceleration of digital technologies – even as environmental regulations become stricter. IMCD explores what this means for car users.

The concept of mobility is being transformed as evolving consumer preferences, environmental regulations and emerging technologies all alter long-standing ways of getting from A to B. As our routines are upended, digital technologies are taken up at an accelerated pace and flexible lifestyles become the norm, the new mobility could look very different within a few years – whether it is the daily commute or planning for an evening out.

At IMCD, we seek to understand what the future will be made of. IMCD’s automotive innovation division spans interior, exterior, under-the-hood, wire and cable and more. In addition, our mobility taskforce seeks to anticipate market developments and offer proactive advice on new materials and formulations, so customers are always aware of strategic routes to maximising new opportunities.

In line with sectoral developments, IMCD’s mobility taskforce has identified two major trends that are driving the future of mobility. This article takes a look at what these trends mean for the future of mobility and aims to offer insight into how they will impact the sector over the next few years.
Electric vehicle charging

Sustainability as a guiding principle

Perhaps the biggest impact on mobility is consumers’ urge to live a more sustainable lifestyle and to reduce their use of fossil fuels. In other words, decarbonisation will have a significant role in transforming personal mobility.

The rise of electric cars has demonstrated that it is possible to create alternatives to the combustion engine. In addition, start-ups and manufacturers are now exploring automobiles powered by alternative fuels such as solar and hydrogen – although these are several years away from mass viability.

Cars and their carbon footprint

For automobile manufacturers, a more pressing need is to reduce the carbon footprint of their products. The sector is critical to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Tailpipe emissions have a significant role to play in lowering greenhouse gas contributions, but manufacturers have now also begun to look at material emissions as they consider the carbon footprint of their products across their lifecycles.

EV sign
Tailpipe emissions can be reduced by turning to electric vehicles (EVs), which do not release greenhouse gases. However, the electricity used to charge EVs may come from fossil fuel sources such as coal or natural gas, which leads to carbon pollution. At the same time, EVs are hampered by heavy batteries, which require more energy.

Building lighter cars – something that has already been a major focus with the three-cylinder combustion engine – delivers on both fronts. Reducing the average weight of a new car delivers immediate emissions savings, because lighter cars use less energy on the road. And because lighter EVs require charging less frequently, pressure on the grid is reduced.

But carbon footprint considerations extend beyond considerations about emissions generated by the production process. At the end of a car’s lifecycle arise questions of recycling and material recovery and reuse. As the world runs out of landfill, the circular economy has become a pressing issue for manufacturers and consumers. Europe is now home to the world’s first circular economy factory for vehicles and the facility extends vehicle lifespan, optimises resource management and supports the reuse of batteries and other car parts for a second or even third time.

New and lightweight options

IMCD’s mobility taskforce therefore works to identify and create materials that can deliver just these parameters. Our automotive partners have had great success with parts made from polyamide glass fibres that are significantly lighter than existing solutions and are also more flexible and shock resistant. Such parts include braking covers, clutch pedals, grammar holding arms for consoles, transverse bridges and engine covers. 

Similarly, the choice of materials must consider how they can be recovered and recycled at the end of a vehicle’s life. Whether these are bio-sourced, recycled or recyclable materials, circularity close to 100% is now essential. Here, the use of polymer-based parts material can ensure maximum reuse while simplifying materials recovery with a low energy impact.

Finally, technological changes require that new propositions are considered very carefully. Electrification is correlated with an increased risk of fire, for example. Therefore, every material used within an EV must be fire-resistant and flame retardant. For non-structural materials, IMCD proposes thermoplastic polyurethane cables (TPUs) and PVC elastomers.

Future of mobility lightweighting

The flexibility of mobility as a service

The flexibility of mobility as a service
Urban mobility is being upended as the way consumers live, work and move evolves. Alongside, concerns have risen around lower carbon footprints and the acceleration of digital technologies.

The desire to own a vehicle is quickly giving way to the rise of mobility as a service.

Consumers are now beginning to adapt their needs according to the distance they need to travel. A journey may begin on a tube or tram, and then continue on a rented bicycle or an electric scooter at the other end. Alternatively, the entire journey could take place in a pooled car.

Understanding shared mobility

The rapid rise of shared mobility – thanks to the proliferation of smartphone apps – offers accessible and flexible ways to get around cities.

However, when transportation services are shared among a number of users, manufacturers will need to pay renewed attention to areas such as health and safety, and internet connectivity in addition to the sustainability issues addressed above.

Market research firm IHS Markit found in a recent survey that 54% of consumers want their next personal vehicle equipped with an antimicrobial coating. For automotive players, that indicates the use of materials that promote hygiene and safety protocols.

Materials for shared vehicles

Plastics that offer disinfecting and self-cleaning properties may be one solution. Frequently touched areas could similarly be embedded with nanoparticles of metals with antimicrobial qualities – such as silver, copper or zinc oxide.

Sharing also leads to the rise of automotive connectivity, and the use of technologies such as satellite, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and the automotive ethernet. As with other components, key questions arise around design considerations, weight, safety and modularity.

IMCD’s automotive experts can offer bespoke advice on how manufacturers can adjust to changes in mobility demands.

Multitasking and the rise of autonomous cars

New vehicles coming onto the road today feature varying levels of autonomy, thanks to recent technological advancements in fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, remote sensing devices and satellite-based global positioning or radionavigation systems.
By and large, these vehicles generally only meet the standards of conditional automation – referred to as Levels 2 and 3 within the industry. Cars can already control steering, automation and braking, for example, although drivers need to remain fully engaged.

Some markets, however, already regulate the use of fully automated cars that function without a human driver on pre-specified routes and under certain circumstances.

With widespread acceptance of full, hands-free automation only a few years away, the question then turns to how humans might make use the cognitive skills they normally allocate to vehicle control. In a fully autonomous car, drivers can use their journey time for other activities – in much the same way as commuters on a train or bus do today. In theory, drivers may be able to make phone calls, browse social media, tackle their email inboxes and perhaps even attend meetings.
Future of mobility

Maximising automation

For the automobile manufacturer, the development raises the question of new materials that maximise automation. Lightweight but durable advanced materials that meet urban mobility requirements will become more common. Likewise, metal structures designed to protect occupants during high-velocity collisions may be replaced by polymers.

Similarly, durable and recyclable composite materials will be used to create body panels, windows and interiors elements.

And as the user experience shifts towards a focus on connectivity and entertainment, demand for haptic surfaces, OLED materials and antimicrobials will rise.

Autonomous cars present us with the opportunity to develop entirely new materials.

Partnering for the development of automotive materials

IMCD has a track record of innovating new materials for the automotive industry.

A car manufacturer came to IMCD with a challenge recently, requesting us to help source a material that lighten the weight of structural automotive elements. After a series of consultations with our partners, we proposed replacing metal parts with lighter and more sustainable elements that matched the manufacturer’s tender specifications. These were then subjected to a number of tests, both independently and with the customer. After further technical visits and trials, the customer had the required product.

Using a honeycomb structure, the cars’ door panels were successfully redesigned to reduce the weight by 20%, resulting in a lighter vehicle overall and stronger doors.

Future directions: Augmented mobility

While this article has explored three forthcoming trends in detail, IMCD’s mobility taskforce expects the new mobility to extend much further.

With urbanisation on the rise, the way we live and work is being transformed. Parcel delivery by drone, flying taxis and bubble taxi hydrofoils will change transport as we know it.
The technology underpinning these developments will evolve alongside, as EV batteries are adapted to be able to power homes, for instance, and virtual web3 solutions make their way into cars. Likewise, urban infrastructure will need to adapt to these trends: electric recharging stations will become much more common, and rental automobiles could be everywhere.

The future, as we see it, is about augmented mobility.
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Yann Schnerb

Yann Schnerb
Based in St Denis in France / Business Unit Manager of Advanced Material at IMCD.
He spent 24 years in Automotive Coatings Sales Management position in Europe. 
Yann is passionate about new solutions to reduce the carbon footprint resulting from new mobility and proud to be part of this adventure. He sees in his role at IMCD a real opportunity to offer a set of sustainable solutions to meet the challenges of tomorrow.