Transcript of the chat: Mobility – What will transport of the future look like?

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Welcome everybody,

Hello everybody and welcome to the second Xperimania V chat in collaboration with inGenious.

I’m Barbara Schwarzenbacher, pedagogical adviser at European Schoolnet and in charge of coordinating the online chats. The topic of this chat today is “Mobility – what will transport of the future look like”.

We are now in Brussels in the office of European Schoolnet, and we have with us 2 industry representatives Cécile Favre and Graeme Wallace. The third industry representative that we had announced for today can unfortunately not join, as she fell sick. However, she will answer the questions which remain unanswered during the chat and we will post them on the Xperimania Facebook page in about a weeks’ time.

Welcome to our two experts and to all of you the students and to your teachers who are here today for this chat.
The industry representatives will be available for the next 1:30 hour to answer as many of your questions as possible. First of all let’s ask the industry representatives to introduce themselves.


Cécile Favre (CF): Hello everybody, my name is Cécile Favre, I’m from France. I’m a chemical engineer and I have been working in the field of emissions control for quite some time. I now work with the AECC which is the Association for Emissions Control by Catalysts and we represent the industry that is involved in the development and manufacturing of emissions control systems in Europe. These are the catalytic converters and the particular features that are seated on cars, trucks and on different machines to reduce the pollutant emissions that are in the exhaust gas. Within AECC I’m the technology and communications officer and we typically work with the industry and the European legislative bodies to address missions of internal combustion vehicles and how they can be better controlled in the future. You may be aware of the various Euro stages that are defined for the various vehicles and we are involved in this type of legislation.

Graeme Wallace (GW): Good afternoon everyone my name is Graeme. I’ve been a chemist for rather a long time. I first started enjoying chemistry at school and I have since then worked on areas linked to fuel and transport and am now within Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council, so that is one of my main areas of interest. I see there is a question regarding electric cars and when they will start to appear. We already see the beginnings of electric cars coming in, driven by everybody’s interest in global warming and reducing the amount of CO2 emissions. The problem at the moment, I think, is developing new technologies for these cars, particularly battery technologies, which is the main issue. That is what makes a car so expensive at the moment and limits the speed and how far you can go before you have to recharge them. There are developments on the way which are tempting to improve this. There is also the European Commission which has started to produce legislation to try and make sure that there are lots of recharging points for electric cars all around Europe. Rather than to have the usual problem of the chicken and egg, which comes first, you can hopefully have the right number of recharging point ready when the cars come in greater numbers. And certainly in the short term we’d expect them mainly in the city.

BS: Thank you very much for the introduction Graeme and Cécile. Lithuanian and Maltese students ask: In which year are these cars going to be available?

CF: In a way these cars are already available on the market. There are a few brands that have already electric cars in production. We know about the Renault Zoe or the Opel Ampera. These are already on the market. It is true that we don’t really see them on the street as these cars remain expensive.

BS: Thank you very much Cécile. The next question comes from Lithuania and says: Is it sensible to use these cars for long distances?

GW: The big problem for electric cars at the moment is how to get batteries with enough power that people can drive a long way, and batteries which you can recharge very quickly and safely. Just like you do nowadays, you drive into the petrol station and within a few moments you fill up and leave. At the moment it is going to be similar to recharging your mobile phone or your laptop, where you have to plug it in for a few hours and nobody is going to want to do this when they are driving big distances. And this is the big problem. A number of technologies are being considered, whether you could simply swap batteries to make it a very quick change. The other one is talking of putting inductive coiling into the roads, so when you drive over them you would automatically recharge your car as you are driving. But those are only ideas, nothing more than that.

BS: The next question comes from Croatia and says: Why are electric cars so expensive?

CF: Yes that is true, the electric cars are still quite expensive and the cost is mainly related to the batteries which use expensive materials and where recycling is also an issue. I think as many technologies you need to reduce the cost and there is a cycle there that needs to be promoted – or not -depending on whether that is the solution for the future.

BS: Students from France are asking: Is it possible to have no polluting transport?

CF: That is one of my topics of expertise, so I will take that question. Most of the member states in Europe face air quality issues and one of the causes for this problem of the quality of air that we breathe is related to transport. The European Commission has declared 2013 the year of air. There will be a lot of consideration taken in this regard. Over the last years there have been several legislations in Europe which reduce the impact of pollution from transport. You have one to six stages for passenger cars, for heavy duty vehicles like buses and trucks. There are also some stages defined for the non-road mobile machineries that included construction equipment, inland navigation vessels or Diesel locomotives. There is also some legislation in place for motorcycles and they all aim at reducing the impact of pollution of the environment. These questions are on-going and activities are also on-going. That means not only to make sure that vehicles are clean on a specific test, but also when they are used in real life and make sure that the emissions that they create during their usage will be controlled. So there are a lot of things on-going and we are moving towards cleaner and cleaner transportation. The most recent vehicle when they operate in city centres, where there are a lot of air quality issues, can even have beneficial effects as they emit less pollutant than the average that is encountered in this environment.

BS: Thank you very much Cécile. The next question comes from Portugal. In the video we have heard that BASF is only making studies for personal cars. We would like to know if there is any development in this field concerning public transportation like buses.

GW: I think that at this stage most of the focus is very much on personal transport and particular personal transport for the cities. If you look at the quality of the air that people breathe, that is where it is the worst. Therefore, the focus is on how to make that better. Part of it is the sort of what Cécile just talked about, but a lot of it is also about trying to change the public transport. We see more trams coming into place and some buses are starting to run on electricity. You also see buses moving to being run on gas. Again this is seen as more environmentally friendly. The ability to use the photovoltaic on these is possible but it may be easier to have a central place where you are generating the electricity and then supply the electricity to buses or trams, either through batteries or through a central point.

BS: A Lithuanian class asks which element of the periodic table is the most prospective in creating the car of the future.

CF: That is a tough question. As I said, my field of expertise is very much on emissions and what I can say is that for controlling emissions of gasoline or Diesel powered cars or vehicles the so called PGM’s are widely used. These are platinum group metals. They include platinum, palladium and rhodium and they allow the oxidation and reduction of the various pollutants in harmless emissions of nitrogen and CO2 and water.

BS: A question from Italy now. How would the future world powered by renewable energy be?

GW: It is always difficult to know how quickly we will move to renewable energy, but I think for it to become the major source, particularly for transport it will be well past 2025, probably closer towards 2050 before it comes in. Most projections expect that people will stay with the fossil fuels. We have now supplemented by increasing amounts of renewable material, such as the bio-gasoline and biodiesels. These will be developing and becoming more environmentally friendly than they are at the moment. And gradually also fuels, you will see maybe hydrogen coming in and increasing the use of gas.

BS: We’ll jump to the next question from the Czech Republic: Will hydrogen ever be used as a common fuel?

CF: Common fuel, I don’t know, but I would say that hydrogen is considered as one of the renewable energies for the future. The European Commission is now trying to put an emphasis on these and have proposed a new directive last week in trying to promote hydrogen to cover broader areas in Europe. Obviously if you want to develop a new type of fuel, then you need the infrastructure to be there. If you want people to buy vehicles that are running on hydrogen, you need hydrogen to be available to the public.

BS: Thank you! Estonia is asking, do you think public transport will be or should be more important in the future?

GW: This is a very good question. I do believe that we are reaching a stage now where we have to completely rethink our model of transport. The sudden rush of people that move early in the morning into big cities and out in the evening is not going to be sustainable unless we go to more common transport systems. Whether this is a greater use of the tram or the train, or whether it is more people cycling, or more people using shared cars. You may even imagine in the future that people will go to systems where, like with the bikes that you can hire in the city, you can have such a thing for cars. It is still unclear; people are still sticking to the idea of having their own car, particularly if it is red and very fast.

BS: Ok, great! Now let me ask the experts to explain how a typical day at work looks like for them.

CF: my typical day at work starts with a cup of coffee. I work for an association where we represent the industry and we are a scientific association, we decide on test programs where we can demonstrate scientifically how much emissions can be lowered with existing technology; so part of my job is to manage these programs that we do in external laboratories and then analyse the results, try to get some sense out of it and prepare some key messages that we can use with the legislators and make them understand how much we can reduce emissions with the next generation of vehicles. I don’t have so much of a fixed structure for my day at work, but this is basically what it is about. Going to meeting, because we don’t only take the information from the industry to the legislators, but we also take the information from the legislators back to the industry, trying to see how future legislation could go and what type of products need to be developed to answer the future legislations that are being prepared.
As I said in the introduction, I’m a chemical engineer, I studied in France and I graduated in NSIC in 1999. I was always keen on science and I thought that choosing chemistry would be a good way to receive the practical effect of the job. I had some concern with the environment and I thought that working in emissions control is a good way of combining my personal beliefs and what I studied at University.

GW: My typical day at work is not so different to Cécile’s’. Everybody is in the electronic age and we get loads of e-mails. We receive a lot of questions from around the world, wondering what is happening in Europe, what we do to make our transport cleaner and better and what they should be doing in their countries. We make sure that when the car is designed the correct fuel is also available for the car. Some countries think we can just change the cars and we can just change the fuel and it is fine, but it is not.
In the past I got into science because I thought it was fun and because you could do lots with new substances. I started by trying to design drugs that would help people with rheumatism, and I thought this was good, because it would help the world. And then I went into the oil business and there we tried to design things that would make cars go quicker and use less fuel and it just felt like a good thing to do, so that is why I have enjoyed it.

BS: Thank you very much for this insight into your daily life and how you actually chose to study science and to go into a science career. Estonia wrote, what is the main new idea developed in the field of transport besides electric cars?

GW: That’s a very good and tough question. I think people always focus on how to make the engine better, how can we make the fuel better, but they forget that there are many other parts of the car that you can also make better. In particular transferring the power from the engine to the road is not as efficient as you might think. Therefore, improvements in the gear; now you can chose between six gears. It’s not so long ago that you could choose between 3. Likewise the tires that are put on vehicles now are much more energy efficient that they used to be. People thought a lot about the technology.

BS: Thank you! The next question comes from the Czech Republic and says how effective can we recycle single parts of the car?

CF: This is a very good question. I think today people are more and more concerned about recycling and I don’t know how it is dealt with all the parts of the car, but what I know is that for the emissions control system, there is a recycling pattern that has been put in place. For example all the platinum that is used in new catalyst comes from 30- 40% of recycled parts. So there is already a process and the trend is getting bigger and bigger as recycling is the key. Most of these very special chemicals that are used in catalytic converters are not found in Europe for example. If you want to have your resource security, then it is better to recycle and rely on external parts of the road to find them.

BS: The next question comes again from a school from the Czech Republic and says : does using gas (LPG) as a fuel help to protect the environment, or is it just replacing one fossil fuel with another?

GW: People here in Brussels have talked about what fuels might be getting used up to 2050 and indeed, LPG and gas is seen as one of the options that could really help. You are replacing one fossil fuel with another, but you are generally replacing it with a fuel that is cleaner and therefore environmentally friendlier and it is a relatively easy transition. Thus on a short term basis it is an easier step to make as we are moving to cleaner transports.

BS: The next question comes from a Croatian school: Do any of our speakers have an electric or solar/green car?

CF: Actually with my husband we decided to live in the city centre to get rid of one of our cars. I don’t have an electric or solar car, but I don’t have a car anymore and I am using public transportation. I think I would like to have a green car, but I am afraid the market is not yet mature enough. You really need to think carefully when you purchase such a vehicle as it is expensive and you also need to consider how you can recharge it. Solar cars, I don’t think there are any on the market yet anyway.

GW: Well, we are talking about changing our car, and we are talking very seriously whether we should go to a hybrid car. Clearly, until people sort out the technology for the electric car to go for long distances, a hybrid car is the way to go. But when I look at the price of those, they are several thousand Euros more expensive than the regular ones. So it is very much the case of “are you prepared to put your money where your mouth is”, in terms of believing in the environment. I think we probably will, but we are still thinking about it. These technologies are nice, but until the technology is mature they are very expensive and this makes it very difficult for ordinary people to afford it.

BS: Thank you to both of you for your answers. Spanish pupils worry that they won’t be able to afford either an electric car or a normal car as the fuel is getting so expensive.

CF: We all know about the economic situation in Europe, especially in southern European countries. There are concerns about the costs of these technologies, but I don’t think the answer is primarily on the cost of transport, but mostly on the general economic situation and the future of European citizens.

GW: I think this is a very important question because what will drive the innovation and the change is if people in general are not able to afford the cost of transport. People value their ability to travel. If they can’t go on holidays people won’t be happy. I think it will be a big driver for change. But as you see more electric cars come in, it will of course also affect the price of fuel because if there is no demand for fuel then the fuel price will go down. The discovery in America of the so called “shale gas” is changing people’s understanding of how much fossil fuel is actually out there. And clearly there is a lot more than people thought. So again, this may change the view of the future and the pricing.

BS: The next question comes from Slovakia and says that the students are curious to know if we are going to have flying cars in 20 years time. Finland has a similar question saying, if yes, would they still move with four wheels when on the ground?

GW: I think they have been talking to a well known professor in England, because one of his visions for the future is that instead of using trucks to transport goods we’ll actually go back and use airships like in the 1920s, because immediately it removes congestion and there is also no need to build and maintain roads and it gives you total flexibility in how you move. I am not completely sure he thought this through, because if the sky is full of airships there will need to be some control overhead. In answer to Finland’s question, when it does land, the chances are it will have to be four wheels unless you are able to eventually develop some of the magnet based systems, which makes cars hover like you can see in some of the science fiction films. But I think this is still a long way off. I think if we see hydrogen vehicles in 20 years and many more electric vehicles that will already be something.

BS: A question from Finland: Will future cars be safer than now?

CF: That is an interesting question as well. Over the years we have seen that cars and vehicles in general are becoming safer and safer and I would say not only with consideration on road safety, but also in respect of health and emissions related topics. So yes, I don’t see why it shouldn’t continue on that path and I would say that future cars are likely to be safer than what they are now. There is also a lot of development ongoing on the safety topic.

BS: The next question comes from the Czech Republic: We wonder if we understood well that rhodinium should be an element of the future.

GW: I think if you are looking at the device for clean air then yes, rhodinium offers some scope. People should understand that cars contain quite a number of computers and have almost I think more computer power than you have on your current laptops, just to control how they drive and run. Clearly they use a lot of the same red air metals like rhodinium.

BS: A question from Estonia says is the use of plastic still increasing in the car industry?

CF: I think yes, in general plastic is more and more used. There are two issues that I see where plastic can provide a good answer. First, moving towards lighter vehicles, they use of resistant plastic can help save some weight of the vehicle and also the ability to better use the environment. Thinking about fuel tanks you can maximise the use of space by using a plastic tank compared to metal ones. So I think this trend will continue.

BS: The next question comes from a Romanian School: In collision with various objects, would batteries that use alternative energy explode faster than classical ones?

GW: I think the short answer is that the car should be properly designed so that there is no risk during a collision that there could be an explosion involved in the batteries. I think what you are thinking about are the lithium based batteries which could produce a lot of hydrogen and if the battery itself went wrong, it could be quite a risk of explosion. In fact I think, any of you that have seen the recent grounding of the Boeing Dreamliner, this was the concern that they had, as they had emergency batteries on the plane that were generating hydrogen.

BS: A question from Estonia: Would you say some words about space technology that is used in future car design?

CF: If I understand the question correctly about the use of space technology transferred into the design of car technology, I think that has been seen over the past that space technology is far advanced and has some applications that can be used in other fields. Road transports could be one.
I’ve seen many questions like will these technologies be the technology of the future. As far as I am concerned, I don’t think there is any future technology. The future is more a combination of different technologies that could run in parallel. I see electric cars being more appropriate for urban driving for example, while the long distance travels like trucks are likely to be running on Diesel fuel or maybe gas or a combination of the two. I think we shouldn’t be targeting them as THE future technology, but rather try to make the best use of each of them.

BS: We have now a question from the Czech Republic: Will cars run on water in the future.

GW: This was certainly a headline a year or two back, when people were thinking, about where would we get all the hydrogen from if cars were running on hydrogen. Would you maybe be able to put water in and break it up in hydrogen and oxygen and then use the hydrogen? I am not sure that the energy balance on that is really very good. But one of the attractions of hydrogen is that the pollutant at the end is water, so that makes it much more acceptable.

BS: Thank you! Students from Romania are asking: is it possible that cars are on fire due to high temperature or leak of energy?

CF: Good question. I entered the underground parking this weekend and noticed the sign “forbidden to gas vehicles”. I think there are a lot of things that need to be considered and as we discussed already, safety is a key issue for vehicle manufacture and a lot of things need to be taken in consideration in the new design of these advanced technology. It would be very bad for their image if such accidents would happen. I think all the precautions would be taken before any such vehicles with risks are put on the market.

BS: A question from Estonia. What about trains and planes. Are there any innovative ideas in these areas?

GW: There are indeed. I think we have already talked about the future of transport. But this is a very important question. Namely can high speed trains replace planes as the preferred way to travel across Europe? We see more and more people liking the fact that they can get on a plane without much notice and travel very quickly to and from places. I think if this technology spreads, then this could be very positive. In the case of planes we’ve seen Solvay here in Belgium who has pioneered “solar flight” which is a solar cell powered glider which uses its own power of the sun to go to high altitude and then glide along distances. In fact it could circle the world by doing this. If this technology starts to develop this could be a real model going forward.

BS: A question from Portugal: How will the roads in the future be? Will it be possible to have intelligent roads that drive the cars and prevent traffic jams?

CF: That is a very interesting idea. There is already the so called “intelligent transport system” in Europe which is addressing this kind of idea of communication between the infrastructure and the vehicle, between the vehicles themselves and with all the technologies that are going into the vehicles. I think that is part of the future and there is a big problem of congestion that needs to be tackled and this is part of the answer.

BS: The next question comes from Lithuania: Production of solar cells itself consumes energy and oil, will the use of electric cars save energy in the end?

GW: I think the answer is yes, it will. But this is a very good question. Europe is worrying at the moment about biofuels and whether they are making the right choices. Are we actually doing more harm than good in terms of the greenhouse gases that are emitted? I think for solar cells to be a truly valuable transport option they must use less energy in making them then they can actually deliver at the end.

BS: Thank you! Students from Finland are asking: What kind of fuel will the cars use.

GW: If we look at the next five to ten years than we assume that we will be using more or less what we are using now, but we’ll use more renewable materials. Whether it is some form of biodiesel or bio gasoline, whichever is there. The difficulty that you have is that when cars are designed, they are usually designed a long time in advance and the average life time they spend sliding around in Europe is about 8 years, so you have got to be sure that if you change the fuel quality too quickly you will have problems for the older cars. This is one of the things in the heart of a big debate at the moment. I think again that is going to be the problem. Beyond the next ten years we might find lots and lots of different fuels with different solutions so you’ll have some cars running on LPG like they do now, some running on a mixture with gasoline, some running on bio. So it will be varied.

BS: Unfortunately we have to stop answering questions now, but we’ll take one last question from Romanian students: Could a car be remotedly programmed to reach a destination and then look for parking?

CF: I think it is an interesting concept. However, for the next year you better use a taxi, because it drops you wherever you want and then looks for a parking place. No, but I think the problem of congestion the problem of parking in city centres is part of the issue for the transport of the future.

GW: I know of some trials running at the moment in Berlin with driverless cars. The other thing that is being considered is smart trucks. Where they are formed into convoys that are closely linked together; so it is a bit like when you watch the Tour de France in Cycling, if you are behind the one in front it is not so much work for you, so you save fuel. And if you can coordinate that, which would require a lot of computer systems, then there is a lot that can be done to save energy.

CF: Another thing to add, in Spain they have developed a brand new system with sensors all over the city which detect where parking spots are available and cars get a signal and people are directed to these areas where parking spots are available. So this also goes into that direction.

BS: To conclude this chat I would like to ask the experts if they have a message, something they would like to tell the students.

CF: I don’t feel like I was in school so long ago, but this chat did not exist at all. It was a good experience for me and interesting to see that young people are interested in Science and I think transport in general is a key matter and there will be a lot of opportunities in the future.

GW: I also join Cécile in thanking you all for your questions. It has been great and I have enjoyed it. I am not going to comment about when I was in school. All I can say is that it is great to see everybody excited about the future and about what transport might do. Whatever question you have thought about the answer ultimately is, some scientist somewhere has got to come up with the answer. Be it the new material, a new fuel, a new form of transport, it is going to be someone to discover that and I am looking forward to hearing that it was one of you.

BS: In the name of Xperimania and inGenious I would like to thank the experts for their time and efforts in answering many questions today. Thank you very much also to the students for their active participation. If you would like to show your appreciation to the experts please click on the clapping icons.
A few announcements before we close:
• The answers to some unanswered questions are going to be posted on the Xperimania Facebook page. You can continue discussing this topic there.
• Don’t forget to participate to the competition. You can find all the relevant information on the Xperimania website and we will link it to the inGenious website as well.
• Take a look at YourFormula.eu, an online platform created by the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) to give young people a place to discover and discuss how chemistry and science is helping build a sustainable world. As you know, sustainable mobility has been on the agenda of Your Formula for a long time. It has also been on the agenda of young adults all over Europe, who are concerned about the future.