The Adventures of FuturEnergia Hero: Scenario 3

SuperHero and energy efficient vehicles

Our Hero is angry that people waste so much energy when traveling around. He decides to build new types of vehicles (cars, planes, boats, trains etc.) that use as little energy as possible. Choose one or more type of vehicle and describe how our Hero designs and builds it.

Ideas for students

  • To be energy-efficient, all types of vehicle will need to be strong, light and aerodynamic. Our Hero will need to build them out of materials that make this possible, like plastics.
  • Our Hero decides to make use of old and new ideas to build his vehicles. For example, he looks at the way some modern boats are using enormous plastic parachutes alongside conventional engines to propel themselves and save fuel.
  • He also looks at cutting-edge technology for some inspiration. For example, the brand new Airbus uses is so light (in part thanks to plastics, which make up 25% of the plane) that it can carry more passengers than any other plane and use less fuel

SuperHero and energy efficient vehicles: Supporting information

Transport is one of the most significant sources of personal freedom. However it comes at a cost – transport is also one of the major sources of energy use. 45% of oil is used in transport. Making better use of energy in transport is one of the most effective ways to reduce energy consumption and protect the climate.

Our Hero is not alone in trying to find new transport solutions. Designers are constantly trying to develop new materials to make more efficient vehicles (meaning any form of transport, from cars to boats to planes).

Increasing the energy-efficiency of vehicles is largely about making them lighter, stronger and more aerodynamic. This allows them to travel further using less fuel.

Plastics are frequently the material of choice for designers trying to create more efficient vehicles. The versatility of plastics is crucial in this respect. There are an almost infinite number of applications for plastics in vehicles. At the moment, the modern average car contains 11% plastic parts, reducing the weight and improving the fuel-efficiency. This percentage is going up with 1 point every 5 years, however the most modern cars contain already 18% of plastics and designers are constantly trying to find new ways to use plastics in cars.

Air travel is facing criticism for being a major emitter of CO2, and therefore contributing to climate change. Aircraft manufacturers are responding by designing new planes (such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing Dreamliner) that use high-technology plastics to reduce weight and fuel consumption, and increase comfort on board by allowing higher pressures and better moisture content in the air. However plastics are also indispensable to make sure that planes comply with their strict safety requirements for parts such as rudders, wings and tyres. It has been estimated that in the future composite plastics will account for up to 50% of the weight of wide-bodies planes, allowing them to emit 50% less CO2 and 80% less nitrogen.

Plastics are playing an ever-greater role in improving the environmental performance of other types of vehicle. The boats of the future could be using enormous plastic kites to propel themselves, in addition to their conventional engines! With propulsion of up to 6,800 PS, these kites take over from the engines when the weather conditions are right, and can reduce a ship’s fuel consumption by up to 50%. Plastics are also contributing more and more to buses and trains, making them typically 30% lighter for a faster, quieter and more fuel-efficient journey. And don’t forget that plastics allow making the cargo lighter.

It should also not be forgotten that these advanced new materials allow designers to make vehicles that are not just environmentally-friendly but which look great too. Plastics can be moulded into all sorts of shapes, allowing designers freedom to create vehicles that really let their owners stand out from the crowd!