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Vice President Communications and Marketing Automotive
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Vice President Communications and Marketing
Schaeffler Group USA Inc.
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2018-01-12 | Detroit
On the road, an electric vehicle produces zero emissions. The battery is charged quickly using a power cable or induction. The mobility issue will be resolved once the challenges posed by electric vehicles – adequate range, quick charging and affordable cost – have been addressed. However, in Schaeffler’s view, this focuses on just one element of the mobility of tomorrow.
“Electric vehicles can essentially meet people’s needs for environmentally friendly mobility in urban areas, but the propulsion concept of a vehicle is not the only important factor,” said Prof. Peter Gutzmer, CTO, Schaeffler. “Equally important is the way in which the energy needed for propulsion is generated and stored. Otherwise, there is a risk that CO2 emissions are merely shifted from one place to another.”
Experts refer to “well-to-wheel” when taking the entire energy chain into account. It is a method that makes it possible to investigate the amount of CO2 emissions being produced within the entire event chain of locomotion – from the production and storage of energy through to its conversion into kinetic energy. According to calculations made by Schaeffler, an electric vehicle still emits up to 65 percent of the CO2 amount of a comparable vehicle with a gasoline engine, based on the current electricity mix within North America. By contrast, if the batteries of an electric vehicle are charged with 100 percent electricity generated by renewable sources, its CO2 emissions will drop to just three percent of those of a conventional vehicle.
This clearly shows that sustainable mobility can only be achieved if the primary energy for locomotion comes from renewable sources, such as wind power, solar power, hydropower or geothermal energy. Schaeffler contributes technology and know-how to the consistent expansion of these energy sources. For the manufacturers of wind turbines, for instance, Schaeffler develops high-performance, low-friction components and bearings for the drivetrain and supports operators with services enabling remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance of the systems. Moreover, to develop additional energy sources, Schaeffler, together with its partners, is engaged in research pursuing completely new approaches – such as exploring how wave and tidal power stations can generate sustainable and predictable electricity.
Before electrical energy can find its way into an automobile it has to be stored. Again, there is not a single approach to storage either. Electricity can be used not only to charge a battery, but also to produce hydrogen by means of electrolysis. Subsequently, in the vehicle, this hydrogen can be reconverted into electricity, for instance to power an electric car. That is why Schaeffler’s engineers are also conducting research on how a fuel cell can be operated with maximum efficiency – for instance by coating “bipolar plates” which are at the core of any fuel cell. A major disadvantage of hydrogen technology is the current lack of infrastructure. The United States, for example, has only about 50 hydrogen filling stations at the moment and their number is still very low around the globe as well. However, a countrywide network of filling stations is the key prerequisite for a successful rollout of this propulsion technology.
Electricity from renewable sources can also be used to produce synthetic natural gas or synthetic liquid fuel. For instance, to produce substitute diesel fuel based on “green electricity,” synthetic fuels are produced using electrical energy and subsequently synthesized in several process steps. Under certain prerequisites, the resulting designer fuels can be near-CO2-neutral across the entire energy chain and made available by the existing filling station network to power the internal combustion engines of vehicles.
“The internal combustion engine will continue to be an important element in transporting people and goods,” says Matthias Zink, CEO of Schaeffler Automotive. “This not only refers to passenger cars but, above all, to commercial vehicles, ships and aircraft for which no serious battery-electric alternative will be available in the foreseeable future.”
A look at the entire energy chain shows that there is no single solution for mobility of tomorrow. In addition to the further optimization of the conventional internal combustion engine and the transmission that goes with it, Schaeffler engineers are working on solutions to electrify the powertrain, optimally coordinated interaction of the internal combustion engine and the electric motor for hybrid vehicles, and on tailor-made, efficient electric drive systems for electric vehicles.
“As an integrated automotive and industrial supplier, we are positioned along the entire energy chain and have defined a correspondingly broad product portfolio. Our customized and comprehensive solutions for a wide range of drive concepts are contributing to helping the North American automotive industry overcome the major challenges the future holds,” says Klaus Rosenfeld, CEO of Schaeffler AG. “We will further strengthen our automotive business in North America with additional investments and in turn actively drive ‘Mobility for tomorrow’ forward.”