Editorial Feature

Using Nanotechnology in the Transport and Automotive Industry

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Similar to several other sectors, the automotive industry is split between attempting to lower costs and dealing with the high price of performance-improving technology and environmental adherence.

Main drivers in the automotive industry are listed below:

  • Improved performance and engine efficiency (fuel saving)
  • Lower air pollution
  • Safety
  • Recyclability
  • Aesthetics

Future Applications in the Automotive Industry

The automotive sector is very appealing with nearly 55 million passenger vehicles sold globally in 2002. Several of the planned applications of nanotechnology are automotive-related, such as harder, lighter, stronger materials (nanocomposites), new nanoscale catalysts (pollution control), and more efficient use of energy (fuel cells). Car manufacturers are keen on utilizing technologies that translate to economical improvements in vehicle performance, safety, and convenience.

Nanotechnology Products in Today’s Market

Nanotechnology has already made its way into numerous automotive applications, for example, clay nanoparticles in composite materials in cars. The extensive use of nanocomposites in cars could, for example, result in a huge reduction in fuel consumption, thus decreasing carbon dioxide emissions.

Low sintering material compounds and lightweight machine and automobile parts are vital constituents in the commercialization chain of the automotive sector. In addition, material characterization approaches, on-line sensors for the measurement of abrasion and wear, or additives for the adhesion of layers and parts are areas of focus in the automotive sector.

Further advancements are aimed at eliminating the need for lubricants through the use of thin layers on gliding elements and bearings, new electrostatic filters or high power switches in ignition devices via field emission principles, or new catalyst surfaces via very porous and chemically selective surfaces.

Nanoparticles are being employed as abrasives, in paints, and in electrochromic coatings for windows or windscreens. In 2001, the worldwide market for automotive paint was £4 billion (PG Phillips & Associates).

The Impact of Nanotechnology in the Following Areas

Direct and indirect involvement of the automotive sector in the commercial use of nanotechnology is growing every year and will continue to influence the following areas:

Materials and Coatings

  • Low-friction nanocomposite coatings
  • New cooling fluids and ferrofluids
  • Wear-resistant nanocomposite coatings
  • Functional nanostructural materials

Energy

  • Nanocatalysts
  • Hydrogen storage for fuel cell
  • Energy accumulators
  • High-efficiency solar cell

Paints and Coatings for Vehicle Body

  • Carbon nanotube-based paints
  • Iridescent coatings
  • Corrosion protection coatings

Night Vision Systems

  • High-sensitivity IR sensors
  • High-transmittance IR polymers embedded with nanoparticles

Sensors

  • Detection of exhaust emissions
  • Monitoring cabin air quality

Interiors

  • Filters for air control
  • State-of-the-art functionalized textiles
  • Electrochromic glasses

On-Board Information

  • Interactive glasses (IPI)
  • Thin-film display
  • Carbon nanotube-based micro-shutter displays

Lighting

  • Optical switches
  • Electro-optical films
  • Electrochromic coatings
  • New lighting sources

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