Editorial Feature

How Do Nanomaterials Help Push the Boundaries in the Automotive Industry

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In structures smaller than 100 nm, quantum effects may significantly alter the properties of materials. By controlling feature size, chemical composition, and atomic structures, it is possible to create macroscopic materials with unique characteristics and functionalities, which enable advantageous new solutions in the automotive sector.

Nanotechnology is seen as one of the core technologies for the future automotive industry to sustain competitiveness. Key topics in the automotive industry are the reduction of fuel consumption, environmental impact, safety, driver information, comfort and alternatives to toxic and/or expensive materials.

Nanomaterials in the automotive sectors offer advantages such as light weight, reduction in friction and emissions by the engine, reduced wear and corrosion resistance, UV resistance, and advanced electronics and sensors.

According to an estimation of the United Nations, the number of vehicles worldwide will double from 750 million today to about 1.5 billion utility and passenger vehicles by 2030, mainly due to rapidly growing markets in China, India, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa. Each year, approximately 50 million new cars are produced in the world, which means that nanotechnology and its products have a huge opportunity in the automobile industry.

Nanotechnology enhances the properties of materials and improves the performance of existing automobile technologies. Figure 1 depicts the applications of nanotechnology in the automotive industry.

Automobile tires contain materials such as carbon black and Nano oxides (silica, alumina) fillers, nanoclay, carbon nanofibers (CNF), and graphene as well as other additives (Polyhedral Oligomeric Silsesquioxanes and nanostructured Poly(alkylbenzene)-Poly(diene) (PAB-PDM). Nano-additives improve the lifetime of tires considerably as well as the rolling resistance, abrasion resistance, and wet traction.

Adding nanostructured materials -nanofibers, nanotubes, nanowires, nanorods, and nanosheets - to fluids result in producing a new generation of nanofluids with superior properties in comparison with conventional fluids.

A number of nanomaterials, such as nanostructured boric acid, tungsten nanospheres, copper nanoparticles, and graphene, have been used in car fluids. Adding nanoparticles to fluid lubricants can improve their mechanical properties and provide various economic benefits.

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Nano-enabled textiles provide innovative and advance solutions for transpiration absorbing, dirt repellent, antimicrobial and antistatic properties and wear resistance as well as noise reduction.

The catalytic converter helps to reduce the emissions from the automobiles through design and manufacturing by replacing the traditional metals such as cerium oxide and platinum. The catalytic converters utilize nano-sized rhodium and palladium in ceramics.

Spintronics is one of the new nanomagnetic materials to revolutionize vehicular computing systems. Many nanoparticles, such as silicon, organic semiconductors, CNTs, and graphene, are spin-injected into metals/oxides at an atomic level to replace the current microsystem. Spintronics explains the aspects of electrons and their rotations, which could be influenced by both electric and magnetic fields. They are applied in recuperation technologies such as the reuse of braking energy.

Another successful application of nanotechnology is the bendable battery. This battery is simply made by coating a sheet of paper or plastic with an ink that has been incorporated with CNTs and Ag nanowires. This battery is flexible and easy to use in many automobile applications.

As nanomaterials continue to push the boundaries in the automobile industry – albeit slowly, they are gaining “commercial evaluation”. Owing to different benefits offered, such as reduction in vehicle weight and hence, increased fuel efficiency with decreased emissions, increased product life, robustness and increased efficacy,  nanotechnology and nanomaterials have a promising future in the automotive industry.

Sources and Further Reading

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