Some say that behind every successful man is a great woman.
German car engineer Karl Benz, if he were alive today, might well agree with that.
For it was his wife Bertha’s publicity stunt in 1888 that focused the world’s attention on his patented Motorwagen and earned the company its first sales.
On August 5, without telling him, she borrowed his car and set off on an historic journey from Mannheim in Germany with their two oldest children. It was the first time anyone had attempted to drive a car over such a long distance.
People thought cars were dangerous and unreliable. And no one wanted one.
Bertha decided to prove otherwise. She wanted no one to be in any doubt. The car was the future.
She set off before dawn and, shortly after dusk, arrived at her mother’s home in Pforzheim from where she sent Karl a telegram, informing him of the good news. The following day, she confounded the critics even more by driving home whereupon she presented her husband with a list of suggestions for all the mechanical things that had gone wrong during her trip.
That 106km journey 124 years ago triggered a love affair with the car that continues to this day.
Back then, it might have been convincing a sceptical public that it was a viable method of travel. Today it’s finding a way of keeping the growing millions of cars on the roads whilst reducing their impact on people and the planet.
And it’s a full-time job.
For technology is moving so fast that it’s hard to predict which direction the industry will eventually go.
Will cars be run on hydrogen, biofuels, fuel cells, solar power, electricity, liquid nitrogen or natural gas? Will they be built from plastic, carbon fibre or aluminium?
There is not going to be a single solution but the direction is the same. Cars of the future need materials and technologies that will make them lighter and safer, reducing fuel consumption and dramatically cut down on exhaust emissions.
Conventional cars currently operate at about 15% efficiency so the potential for improvement with advanced technologies is enormous.
Scratch the surface and you will find that INEOS is already at the heart of so many of the advances that are being made by manufacturers to make cars stronger, safer, lighter, sexier and more efficient while also satisfying those concerned about the environment.
Plastics is a big one that is pulling its weight.
So too is carbon fibre. But there are a host of other raw materials made by INEOS that are going into tyres, seat belts, brake fluid, anti-freeze, air filters and synthetic oils.
INEOS’ Olefins & Polymers makes the high density polyethylene and polypropylene, which form the backbone of the entire plastics manufacturing industry.
Car manufacturers especially like plastic because it can be moulded into virtually any shape but there’s more to plastic than just versatility.
It’s also incredibly strong while being much lighter than steel, which as a result enables lighter, more fuel-efficient cars that do not compromise on safety.
Today most fuel tanks in Europe and America and about 40% in Asia are believed to be made of plastic instead of steel because they are lighter, can be recycled and don’t corrode.
And some of the world’s leading producers are using INEOS’ custom-engineered polymers to make them.
The use of carbon fibre is another exciting area and INEOS’ Nitriles business, which is the world’s largest producer of key carbon fibre ingredient acrylonitrile, is at the heart of that too.
Carbon fibre is 50% lighter than steel yet about five times stronger. The challenge is to find a way of making it more affordable so it can be mass produced.
INEOS says, if that happens, the potential environmental benefit, given the number of cars on the roads around the world today, is enormous.
Look closely at the electrics in most cars and you will find that all the wiring is coated in PVC largely because it is flame resistant – a factor which will become ever more important as the number of electrical components in cars increases.
“PVC cabling doesn’t perish unlike rubber,” said Dr Jason Leadbitter, Sustainability & Compliance Manager at INEOS ChlorVinyls, Europe’s largest PVC manufacturer.
His colleagues at INEOS Oligomers, meanwhile, are working closely with the manufacturers of synthetic oils and additive suppliers to deliver what their customers want. Advanced synthetic oils are helping to reduce wear and tear on engine components, whilst helping to improve the efficiency of modern engines for longer.
“Today demand for better fuel economy has increased both end-user and car manufacturers’ interest in low viscosity engine lubricants,” said Michel Sánchez, PAO market development manager at INEOS Oligomers. “And that trend will continue with the introduction of new, tailor-made viscosity grades.”
He said INEOS’ Group IV base oils – known as PAOs – performed above and beyond in maintaining engine durability, performance and reliability
At INEOS Olefins & Polymers, the raw materials for butadiene are also produced to create synthetic rubber for tyres. The beauty about butadiene is that it performs equally well whatever the weather and can withstand a lot of wear and tear compared with other rubbers.
There are currently more than 160 tyre manufacturers in the world who spend over £1,000 million every year in research and development to make cars more efficient, enhance handling and improve stopping distances.
Treading that road too is INEOS Phenol.
Its phenol goes into resins to make tyre tackifiers and nylon intermediates to make tyre cord and other engineered thermoplastics.
But INEOS Phenol’s involvement doesn’t end there.
Phenol and acetone are both needed to make polycarbonate, a magical, pliable material that is used extensively to make sun roofs, side windows, tail lights, headlamps and other car parts.
The good thing about polycarbonate is that it can be moulded into a single piece, it is light and incredibly strong, which means better protection in the event of an accident.
INEOS Phenol also makes acetone which is used in Perspex, in acrylics for the paints, along with resins for brake pads and air filters.
Perhaps the biggest question of all, though, is how will cars of the future be powered?
Every car company without exception is considering the alternatives to fossil fuels and how this shapes their product.
It is an area that INEOS is also involved.
It has built a plant in Florida that is designed to produce eight million gallons of advanced biofuels from waste every year for the cars of today and tomorrow.
Meanwhile, their colleagues at INEOS ChlorVinyls have helped to create a ‘hydrogen highway’ across Norway by providing a clean form of hydrogen.
The hydrogen, which is essential for fuel cells, is a by-product of INEOS’ chlor-alkali process at its Rafnes site.
“It provides fuel from one of several hydrogen fuelling stations that are now forming a corridor from Stavanger to Oslo,” said Jason.
No-one should ever doubt the importance of the chemical industry to the car industry.
The International Council of Chemical Associations said recently that chemical products for vehicles were now saving 230 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.
In a report to the Rio +20 summit, it also highlighted how metallocene catalyst technology, licensed by INEOS Technologies, had been a major breakthrough in the manufacturing of plastics.
“Metallocene polymers also enable modified plastics to be used more widely in automobile applications, replacing steel,” the ICCA said.
Whatever happens, the car manufacturing industry will continue to look to companies like INEOS for answers.
Thankfully INEOS has plenty.
Plastic fuel tanks are replacing steel because they are lighter (lighter cars improve fuel economy), they can be recycled and don’t corrode. INEOS Olefins & Polymers manufactures the high density polymers for plastic fuel tanks.
There are currently more than 160 tyre manufacturers in the world who spend over £1,000 million every year in research and development to make cars more efficient and improve stopping distances. INEOS Olefins & Polymers produces the materials used to make for tyres. These help to improve performance and reduce wear and tear. INEOS Phenol produces phenolic resins that are used to make tyre tackifiers and its alpha methyl styrene helps to produce better, fuel efficient tyres.
Plastics are being used inside cars to improve aesthetics and safety. INEOS Olefins & Polymers manufactures the high density polyethylene and polypropylene that form the backbone of the entire plastics manufacturing industry. Phenol and Acetone from INEOS are both needed to make polycarbonate that is also being used to reshape car interiors and exteriors. INEOS Phenol’s phenol and acetone are both needed to make polycarbonate.
The world is looking for an alternative to traditional fossil fuels. INEOS Bio’s technology produces advanced biofuels (from waste not crops) to be blended with petrol. The technology also produces renewable power that could be used to charge batteries.
Demand for better fuel economy and better performing engines has led to an increase in the interest in low viscosity engine oils. INEOS Oligomers provides the manufacturers of synthetic oils and additive suppliers with the high performance base oils that help to improve a car’s overall efficiency.
Carbon fibre is 50% lighter than steel but about five times stronger. More of this product is being used in cars to reduce weight without compromising safety. INEOS Nitriles is the world’s largest producer of acrylonitrile which is the essential ingredient in carbon fibre. Without it, carbon fibre would not exist.
PVC is used to coat the wiring of electrical components in cars because it is flame resistant and, unlike rubber, doesn’t perish. INEOS ChlorVinyls is Europe’s largest PVC manufacturer.