Chemistry, the Auto Industry, and the Sharing Economy

To meet new regulations and demands, automakers are depending on science.

Automotive Innovation through Chemistry

Today the auto industry is evolving faster than at any time since the days of the Model T. Not only are the cars themselves changing, the ways we use them are changing, too, thanks largely to the sharing economy. As a result, techniques and materials that worked fine for decades will no longer do.

The Rules of the Road Have Changed

Having your own car, once a symbol of independence for Americans, is falling out of favor. In fact, 57% of US adults agree that access is the new ownership, according to a 2015 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey.1 To further prove the point, one major car-sharing service is growing 10% per year and reports that 10% of its members got rid of a car after joining.2

Fuel efficiency standards, meanwhile, are rising rapidly. Current EPA regulations require an increase in fleetwide milage, from 36.6 mpg in 2017 to 54.5 mpg in 2025, tasking automotive engineers with making radical changes to engines and chassis.

These new demands require significant changes in auto materials and design. Fortunately, though, chemistry is stepping in with fresh solutions.

The New Rules of the Road

Regulations requiring higher mileage and lower emissions are placing greater demands on the materials used in new engines. Manufacturers are increasing fuel efficiency by reducing engine size and adding turbochargers, which spin as fast as 300,000 rpm and force engines to run at higher internal pressures and temperatures—often in more-confined spaces that challenge ventilation and cooling.

Additionally, stricter noise standards and the need for better aerodynamics are reducing the size of engine compartments, creating a hotter environment.

To help car manufacturers achieve efficiency while maintaining output, Chemours developed products that enable new cars to achieve the kind of performance typical of older, larger, fuel-guzzling engines—while still reducing the need for maintenance.

Maintenance in the Sharing Economy

Beyond new regulations, today’s automobiles face other changing demands. Most cars are used an average of 48 minutes a day.3 Cars used by car-sharing services, though, may run several hours a day, increasing their potential for breakdown. This problem is compounded because cars used by car-sharing services must often be maintained in the field by a roving crew.

Car manufacturers are making things a little easier for car-sharing services by extending scheduled maintenance intervals, which increased 8.8% from 2013 to 2015.4 But they’re achieving this greater reliability in part through the use of synthetic oils that often contain aggressive chemicals. It all adds up to a grueling life for cars used in these shared services—specifically for the seals and gaskets that must resist the attack of those chemicals through a wide range of operating temperatures.

car sharing services factoid

Tougher Materials for Harsher Environments

Sixty years ago, our experts invented Viton™ fluoroelastomers specifically for demanding applications like these. Viton™ solutions provide flexibility—and the ability to maintain the integrity of a seal—at temperatures ranging from -34 to 226 °C (-29 to 439 °F). Viton™ can maintain its characteristics even in the presence of synthetic lubricants and other harsh chemicals, including fuel and powertrain fluids. “All the fluids used in a car need to be less and less viscous to reduce friction and withstand much longer service intervals,” notes Global Product Manager of Viton™ Fluoroelastomers, Anton Soudakov. “These synthetic fluids incorporate chemicals that can attack seals and gaskets. All these parts must be much more resistant to chemicals than they had to be in the past.”

Meanwhile, all engine parts must also tolerate higher operating temperatures—a result of reducing motor size and increasing efficiency. Viton™ helps here too, since it maintains its elastomeric properties at temperatures of up to 226 °C (439 °F). It can withstand the searing environment of a turbocharger and the ovenlike conditions created by today’s smaller engine compartments. Even under such extreme conditions, Viton™ can help maintain the tight seals required to meet increasingly stringent emissions standards.

“The automotive industry is changing incredibly fast, and this is placing extraordinary demands on the materials used in engines,” Imbert says. “The operating temperatures are getting higher, the internal pressures are rising, and the chemical environment is increasingly harsh. But we expect that with Viton™ and other high-performance formulations, we’ll be a vital partner for the auto industry in the coming decades.”

Discover more with Chemical & Engineering News and learn about other industries that are using chemistry to take innovations to new extremes.

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