According to predictions, there will be 2 billion cars in use on the world’s roads by 2035.
With such a rapid increase in the number of vehicles and the recent shift in the automotive industries towards focusing on the environmentally friendly methods in power generation and manufacturing, will the continued impact remain the same, get worse or start to improve?
In recent years and in many countries it has become a legal obligation to recycle all used car tyres. It is, in fact, one of the only industries where we have seen widespread legislation demanding that 100% of materials be recycled.
This has created substantial innovation in car tyre recycling. Old tyres are now heavily used across the building industry including in brick alternatives, to make level crossing and roads as well as in sports surfaces and playgrounds. We have also seen application in making household and office products such as stationary and even trainers.
One obvious reuse of old tyres is in the manufacture of second-hand tyres. Many car and truck tyres are designed to be retreaded and used again for the same purpose. However, the market for second-hand tyres remains small.
Used tyre recovery outcomes, data source: Oponeo
It is not only car tyres that can be recycled. There are many other parts that are or could be reused or repurposed in some way.
For example, more recent technology means that cracked windshields can be transformed into fiberglass insulation, concrete blocks, and glass bottles. Other key elements such as oil filters, aluminium car rims, door handles and other scrap metal can all be recycled in some way.
Car batteries are also widely recycled, with a 98 to 99 percent recycling rate in the USA.
Although this is the case, we are still seeing a noticeable amount of car parts making their way to landfill from end-of-life vehicles. Even given the EU’s strict recycling laws, 25 percent of cars parts go unrecycled.
One of the biggest changes we are likely to see in the automotive industry in the coming years is the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles on our roads.
On the one hand, this is predicted to have a positive impact on the environment. This is primarily due to increases in efficiency and the smart nature of the vehicles — meaning less traffic. This smart nature also means smoother rides, leading to less energy being wasted braking and accelerating.
However, the Department of Energy are concerned that, because of cultural shifts, it may actually create a negative impact on the environment. This would occur due to autonomous vehicles making longer commutes more appealing, as the passengers can focus on other things than physically driving. As driverless cars can also travel faster and safer, more fuel could be needed to cover the same distances.
Fuels and Alternatives
It is no news that fossil fuels are detrimental to the environment. We are already seeing a shift towards other fuel types that are either substantially less damaging or carbon neutral in some way.
Biodiesel for example is the most commonly used substitute for regular, oil-based diesel for diesel vehicles in the UK. Due to the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plants used to manufacture biofuels, these are considered to be carbon neutral.
We have also seen a rise in the popularity of electric cars. In 2015, both the UK and the Netherlands were countries with the highest share of electric cars in the European Union, with EVs constituting0.4% of all vehicles. Although electric cars are arguably not carbon neutral, depending on how the electricity is generated, they are certainly less environmentally damaging than their fossil fuel alternatives.
Other innovative fuel types are also increasing in popularity. For example, there are already two cars on the market that adopt hydrogen fuel cell technology and there are rapidly developing innovations that may soon lead to commercially viable solar-powered vehicles.
Although the automotive industry certainly isn’t squeaky clean when it comes to consequences for the environment, there is a possibility for them to become less severe. With current materials used in vehicles widely being recycled and new technologies looking to increase the environmental friendliness of cars, we are on the right path to achieving auto sector with less negative impact.
The question remains, however, if all these innovative solutions will be enough to overcome the problems of one of the biggest and most rapidly growing industries in the world?
Giles Kirkland is a dedicated car expert with passion for all things automotive. His most recent interests revolve around financial aspects of the car industry. He enjoys commenting on money-related affairs, sharing his knowledge with other motor enthusiasts, and giving advice on money saving.