The New Mobility World is where the future of mobility becomes reality. The big ideas, prototypes and projects of our first edition in 2014 have rapidly become the status quo: Ridepooling and ridesharing, connected and intelligent infrastructure, and first forays into autonomous driving services and buses are the new normal. But we live in a time of accelerated consumption and development. What is current now might no longer be so in a few months or a few years as today’s revolution is tomorrow’s convention. And at the centre we find a mobility that does not stop, instead constantly driving innovation forward.
Case in point: The first electronic vehicles were seen as a car for hippies and hipsters, because who would want to drive a Prius when you could drive a Porsche? But then came An Inconvenient Truth and The 11th Hour. Soon celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Harrison Ford were spotted behind the wheel of the hybrid, and people started embracing the step towards electric mobility. Over time, these alternatives have continuously evolved. The weaknesses of the technologies have been resolved or alleviated, the prices lowered, the concepts have become feasible for everyday usage. Whether it’s hydrogen- or electricity-powered (or whatever else we might see developing in the near future), they have become serious, clean and sustainable alternatives to diesel and gasoline – and one of the focus topics of this year’s NMW.
As part of the IAA Conference, experts, decision-makers and visionaries will be presenting and debating alternative drive technologies, batteries, and supercapacitors, or future mobility concepts. Here we present the focus topics of this year’s New Mobility World in Frankfurt. Automated and connected mobility have already been introduced in recent weeks. This week is dedicated to getting started on clean and sustainable mobility.
Clean and Sustainable Energy – What are the Alternatives?
So far, alternative powertrains have not made it to the masses. Due to their short range and long charging times, electric motors were viable only over short distances, such as in cities. The hydrogen engine found its application in public transport, such as in buses or waste disposal trucks. However, the lack of filling stations and the expensive technology prevented a big breakthrough on the market.
This is about to change: There is increasing interest in alternatives to the conventional combustion engine. New technologies make the engines more suitable for everyday use, more and more companies are bringing sustainable vehicle models onto the market, and the interest in the alternatives is helping manufacturers to benefit from economies of scale – the higher number of units leads to cheaper production and correspondingly lower prices. Alternative drives are here to conquer the masses, with electric and hydrogen engines leading the way.
In the meantime, various startups are also mixing up the mobility market and creating new competitive pressure. Companies such as e.Go or Uniti produce electric vehicles for daily use in significantly lower price segments. Not only are the economies of scale in production an advantage, but the electric motor is also technically easier. As a result, young companies are not dependent on the great technical expertise of classic automobile companies in engine construction with regard to technically demanding internal combustion engines.
In addition, companies such as Tesla or the joint venture Ionity (BMW, Daimler, Ford, Volkswagen) significantly reduce the charging time of vehicles with modern charging stations (superchargers). Electric vehicles can now be charged within a coffee break, compared to the several hours that were normal in the past.
While electric powertrains have the upper hand in cities and smaller vehicles, the hydrogen drive is made for the long haul: The range is higher than comparable electric vehicles, the drives are more powerful and thus save more space in larger vehicles, and the tanks can be filled faster. These advantages make hydrogen propulsion particularly interesting for freight or public transport.
Japan has already positioned itself in pole position for research and production of hydrogen propulsion in recent years. In the Land of the Rising Sun, the automotive giants Toyota, Honda and Nissan, leading Japanese oil and gas companies and the Development Bank of Japan joined forces in 2018 to form the Japan H2 Mobility (JHyM) joint venture. Their goal: a competitive, progressive hydrogen drive and the expansion of the filling station infrastructure.
Batteries, Fuel Cells, and Supercapacitors
However, both electric and hydrogen drives stand and fall with the built-in storage media. The batteries and fuel cells decide on the range, driving force and charging time.
Currently, batteries are the standard in electromobility due to major advances in battery technology. For a long time, batteries were the Achilles heel of e-mobility though. Their long charging times, short range and expensive components prevented the breakthrough of electric vehicles. Electric cars were at a disadvantage compared to combustion engines due to their battery technology. Although the range is still lower today compared to modern combustion systems, the gap has been minimised significantly. Additionally, drivers can charge their batteries with modern Superchargers in the time it takes to grab groceries, and significantly cheaper batteries carry the electric mobility into new customer groups.
But perhaps soon batteries could be replaced by so-called supercapacitors. At least one of the pioneers of electromobility, Elon Musk, is convinced of this.
After all, supercapacitors are much more powerful than conventional batteries, can store energy much faster, and are more durable. So why haven’t they pushed aside the humble battery yet? Unfortunately, despite the enormous advantages, (currently) the limitations of the technology outweigh the positives
1: Supercapacitors cannot store energy for long. If the vehicle is not used, the energy is lost.
2: The energy density is significantly lower than batteries – it’s about five percent compared to lithium-ion batteries. After only a few
As a result, supercapacitors are currently mainly used as temporary storage, for example, to store recuperation energy. Hybrid and electric vehicles recover energy during braking, store them in supercapacitors and feed them back into the engine as support during the acceleration process; or provide more horsepower to Formula 1 vehicles for a short time using the KERS system.
Meanwhile, researchers have supposedly found a way to equate the storage capacity of supercapacitors with that of batteries. They experiment with a polymer, similar to the contact lens fluid, as a storage medium for the energy in the capacitors. We should see the first prototypes in the next few years.
Lest we forget, the hydrogen engine is also an electric drive. Here, however, hydrogen is stored as an energy source in fuel cells and converted into electricity by a chemical process. Simply put: The hydrogen stored in the fuel cells is oxidised by the addition of oxygen. Electricity is the product of this chemical reaction and drives the engine – water vapour is produced as a “waste product” – no exhaust gases, fine dust, or soot.
New Mobility Strategies and the Charging Infrastructure
In the coming years, the share of clean, sustainable alternative drive technologies in the mobility mix is poised for a definite increase. Many countries prioritise the development of sustainable transportation and plan to no longer allow internal combustion engines in the near future. Norway was one of the first countries to announce this step. From 2025 onwards, the government doesn’t want to approve internal combustion engines any longer. Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands or huge sales markets such as China and India want to take this step from 2030 onwards, with France and the UK following suit in 2040. Individual cities such as London have banished older internal combustion engines from the city centre for some time already, or they are charging high tolls for entering certain urban areas.
Many countries are innovation-friendly and experiment with new means of transport. China equips buses with supercapacitors, which are reloaded at the stops. Many other cities rely on hydrogen and electromobility in public spaces and electrify their public transit fleets.
Nowadays, the problem is less the alternative technologies and more the existing infrastructure. The charging infrastructure for electric cars or the filling station network for hydrogen, natural gas, etc. is still lacking in many places. But here, too, things are changing:
– The EU has presented an action plan to promote the development of filling station and charging infrastructure.
– In addition, the European Union is promoting a so-called Blue Corridor: a series of LNG filling stations along a North-South corridor from the
– Other companies are trying to promote change in a creative way: Ubitricity, a Berlin startup, complements street lights with charging stations for electric cars. The city of London is already working with the company. The Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW), in turn, is researching a multi-fuel pump which,