The looming climate crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today, with everyone from international organisations and national governments to businesses and individuals having to take action to meet the oncoming threat. Population growth, increasing urbanisation, rising pressure on resources and a continuously growing global economy are all making this task both more difficult and more essential.
For its part, Microsoft has committed to the goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030. By 2050, the company aims to have removed all the carbon dioxide emissions that it has produced either directly or by energy consumption since the company was founded in 1975. As part of this commitment, it is investing over $1 billion in its Climate Innovation Fund over the next four years to help fund new technologies and sustainability solutions.
For automotive companies the challenge is a particularly pressing one. Around 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted annually from a standard internal combustion-engined (ICE) car, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the industry is perceived as being one of the major contributors to global emissions. However, this reputation is not always entirely fair, according to Sanjay Ravi, Microsoft’s worldwide head of automotive.
“In total, the automotive industry itself is actually less of a contributor than many think,” says Sanjay Ravi, worldwide head of automotive mobility and transportation at Microsoft. “Most of the emissions in automotive are produced in the value chain, with the vast majority of the lifetime impact of vehicles coming in their usage. One way to mitigate this is through electrification with green energy sourcing; Microsoft for example will electrify its entire global vehicle fleet by 2030, and intelligent fleet management will provide the data to allow us to optimise this.
Nonetheless, the industry faces considerable outside pressure. Consumer expectations are evolving to demand a more sustainable approach, while regulations and emission limits are coming into force in countries across the world. In response, car design has shifted rapidly towards electrification.
“The entire industry is working with electric platforms and are producing a range of products which range from plug-in hybrids to fully electric vehicles,” says Ravi. “For passenger cars, this transition will progress quite quickly, as it will for vans and light trucks. This may take longer for heavy trucks, but several companies are also working on both improved battery technology and hydrogen fuel-cell power to make this a reality.”
Electrification will allow vehicles to be as sustainable as the energy that powers them, making them no worse than any other consumer of electricity. The local pollution impact is removed, and the vehicle can become more immediately sustainable over its lifetime as availability of green power improves. As sustainable sources of electricity become more dominant, emissions related to the automotive industry will be significantly reduced.
Electric vehicles will also enable a shift in how vehicles can be maintained. Currently, replacing the power train or swapping the gearbox in a vehicle with a combustion engine is a complex and expensive task. With an electric vehicle, this task becomes a lot easier, potentially opening up the possibility of a much longer operating life with recycled parts.
“Manufacturers can start to design vehicles not to be scrapped after eight years or 10 years, but to last 20 or even 30 years,” says Ravi. “What we believe will happen is that people will shift away from seeing vehicles as a lifestyle choice towards a more utilitarian view geared to mobility, and that means that you can engineer longer lifespan products. If you’re not as concerned with selling vehicles to end consumers, then having some of the parts be recycled or refurbished isn’t a problem. It’s more economically efficient and sustainable. And data collected through the vehicle’s life can help identify parts with significant remaining service life, as opposed to others which might need to be recycled or remanufactured, helping to drive circular manufacturing. As part of this same trend, for example, Microsoft is moving to 90 per cent reuse/recycling of parts for servers in our data centres.
Shifting expectations for transportation as a whole can also influence the introduction of new, more sustainable mobility systems. Currently, private cars are a common method of transportation, with many vehicles operating below their maximum occupancy and remaining parked for the majority of the time. As a result, there are more vehicles on the road at any one time than necessary, creating additional emissions and congestion. And for individual vehicles, the impact in carbon emissions to build the vehicle is not necessarily amortised well from a point of view of utilisation (benefit received) or effective service life. The negative experiences that this creates has seen greater numbers of people shift towards different, shared modes of transport, especially in large cities and amongst younger generations.
The potential introduction of autonomous vehicles could also have a significant impact on the roll out of these systems. Without the need for a driver, fleets of multi-passenger vehicles which more closely match the required demand at any time of the day in terms of optimal size would become economically viable.
“The industry as a whole is beginning to adapt to these…
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