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The automobile industry can lead the clean mobility movement. This is how

A Hyundai Motor's Nexo hydrogen car is fuelled at a hydrogen station in Seoul, South Korea, August 13, 2019. Picture taken August 13, 2019.    REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji - RC123F244410

'A carbon-neutral vehicle fleet requires a carbon-neutral logistics supply chain.' Image: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Jasmeet Singh
Executive Vice President, Global Head of Manufacturing and Chair Infosys Public Services and Infosys Automotive GmbH, Infosys
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SDG 13: Climate Action

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  • To reduce the environmental footprint of automobiles, automakers need to focus on aspects that span the production, use and end-of-life phases.
  • Replacing internal combustion engines with battery and fuel cell electric technologies will not by itself resolve the carbon issue.
  • Automakers need to adopt circularity-focused design practices and maximise consumption of renewable and reusable materials for producing new vehicles.

Breaking news for environmentalists and business strategists in the automotive industry…

The municipality of Heidelberg, a city in southern Germany, is building bridges and a highway network for bicycles. Residents get free public transportation and bonuses for purchasing battery-powered vehicles and installing charging stations. The automobile-free movement is part of a plan to minimise carbon emissions in the city.

Meanwhile, the Great American Rail-Trail project of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy aims to provide non-motorised travel between Washington DC and Washington State – a stretch of 3,700-plus miles between coasts. The contiguous route connects abandoned railway lines and multiuse paths, facilitating access to areas of historical, cultural and industrial interest. The trail is expected to be completed by 2040.

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Passenger vehicles account for a significant amount of air pollution in metro areas. Several cities are working toward phasing out or banning fossil fuel-powered vehicles. The SmartWay Transport Partnership programme of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Sulphur 2020 regulation of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) energy scorecards for cities are shaping emission-free transportation.

Motorised modes of travel will never be abandoned, but these initiatives have twin lessons for automotive manufacturers: one, clean energy and energy efficiency are not only environmental obligations, but also important for sustainable growth; and two, environment-friendly mobility demands decarbonisation of the fleet, production processes and the logistics supply chain.

How do we make the car ‘green’?

To reduce the environmental footprint of automobiles, automakers need to focus on aspects that span the production, use and end-of-life phases; improve fuel efficiency; reduce SOx, NOx, CO2 and particulate emissions; extend the life of vehicles and components; and recover, recycle and reuse metals as well as other materials.

Such an economic value-oriented decarbonisation approach uncovers emissions embedded in the resources used for production as well as upstream and downstream activities. It offers insights for the transformation of product design, supply base and operations to achieve carbon neutrality. R&D teams can focus on disposal and explore alternative materials based on the carbon quotient, while procurement teams collaborate with suppliers to increase salvage and recycle rates.

Digital twins and AI tools enable auto manufacturers to trade sustainability and economic feasibility without compromising on the dynamics of driving or the aesthetics of car interiors. It facilitates digital prototyping to minimise resource-intensity of vehicles, and evaluates diverse properties of recycled materials to maximise reuse. Besides, AI tools are essential for building on the 'circularity roadmaps' of the Circular Cars Initiative, the private-public partnership to enhance the lifecycle of vehicles. AI-powered systems apply real-time data from the ecosystem to ensure that automobiles are designed, produced and delivered for the circular economy.

How do we ensure ‘clean’ locomotion?

Replacing internal combustion engines with battery and fuel cell electric technologies will not by itself resolve the carbon issue, because the energy-intensive production systems of electric vehicles offset the sustainability advantages of usage. Environmental equilibrium can only be maintained across phases by improving materials efficiency, eliminating waste during production and promoting regenerative practices for resource conservation.

Automakers need to adopt circularity-focused design practices and maximise consumption of renewable and reusable materials for producing new vehicles. Meanwhile, e-Learning modules can train engineers to better understand direct and indirect sources of emissions, and make smarter decisions by leveraging predictive algorithms. At the same time, analytical frameworks enable production teams to incorporate carbon targets and monitor real-time metrics, be it from the shop floor or a limited-edition luxury model.

A carbon-neutral vehicle fleet requires a carbon-neutral logistics supply chain.

Jasmeet Singh, EVP and Global Head of Manufacturing, @Infosys

The extensive footprint of gas stations has contributed to the growth of the passenger vehicles market. Manufacturers should build an equivalent network of hydrogen refilling stations and power charging points for mass adoption of clean energy solutions. Partner engagement programmes will also be required to create an inclusive community for sharing specific know-how, developing best practices for disposal management and enabling the sharing economy.

A carbon-neutral vehicle fleet requires a carbon-neutral logistics supply chain. In addition to reducing fuel consumption, energy usage for production, tailpipe emissions, and the delivery of automobiles and spare parts should also be environmentally friendly. Manufacturers should encourage transportation partners, car carriers or trailers, and cargo shippers to pivot to cleaner fuels and minimise airborne particulate matter from the freight fleet.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about the circular economy?

The automobile industry needs to be at the forefront of the clean mobility movement. It should encourage decarbonisation as a means to a healthy lifestyle while developing the infrastructure to minimise the environmental footprint of vehicles across their lifecycle. Strategic investments in decarbonisation and collaborative effort will shape the future of transportation.

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