Automakers are furiously pressing ahead with electrification of the drivetrain. Hybrid drives, which use a powerful, compact electric motor to supplement the internal combustion engine (ICE), represent a first step on the path to emissions-free electric vehicles. A key component in these electric motors? Silicone products from WACKER.
Foto: Audi AG
Excessively High Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Mankind has always been on the move, but ever since mass motorization began in the 20th century, its reach has grown dramatically. More than a billion cars are on the world’s roads today, and there is no sign their popularity will end anytime soon. Although the automobile has generally been a boon for personal mobility, its environmental impact is now under severe scrutiny: in Europe, vehicles account for one-fourth of total carbon dioxide emissions, and half of that amount is produced by cars. Major cities gasping in a stranglehold of cars are responding by imposing licensing restrictions.
London, for example, levies a congestion charge. And in Beijing, which is also plagued by traffic jams and smog, so many new vehicles have come onto the roads that the city authorities have even decided to limit new registration to 240,000 vehicles a year.
Fuel Prices on Rise
As traffic volumes continue to swell, particularly in Asia, the rising cost of fuel means that motorists all around the world will have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for it. A recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that world oil production peaked in 2006 and is now in decline. Peak oil and growing demand are reasons for the ongoing price rises. Even when the forecast is expanded to factor in other sources such as oil sands and oil shale, which are expensive to develop and ecologically problematic, the IEA believes peak oil will likely be reached by 2035.
The Search for New Drive Technologies
Given these finite oil reserves, automakers around the world are eager to develop alternative drive technologies so that the automobile does not fall victim to its own success. After all, today’s ICEs are still based on drive technologies dating from the late 19th century. Gasoline and diesel engines are not very efficient, wasting some two-thirds of the energy contained in the fuel.
ZF Sachs hybrid module, consisting of electric motor, clutch and actuator
Avoiding Carbon Dioxide Emissions: Electric Motors
Compare these with the electric motor, which is more than 90% efficient, produces no emissions and operates silently. If an all-electric car is supplied with electrical energy derived not from fossil fuels but entirely from renewable sources such as wind power, hydropower or photovoltaics, it will not produce any carbon dioxide emissions when driven. A further advantage of an electric motor is that it can also be operated as an electricity generator.