reportAerospace, Automotive & Transport
1.1.1 Executive Summary
Potential applications of nanotechnology in the transport sector are enormous. The match between the advantages derived from using nanotechnology (e.g. new, improved or tailored properties) and the market needs in the transport sector such as (more) sustainable, safer and economic transport modes has triggered huge public and private investments in the field.
As a result, a (small) percentage of today's new cars and aircrafts already incorporate nanotechnology. From nanotubes into cars' fuel lines, to nanoparticles in scratch resistant glass coatings or as fuel additives to improve fuel combustion efficiency, nanotechnology has started to enter the transport sector. Thus, cars and aircrafts have mostly benefited from the development of nanomaterials production technologies (e.g. providing benefit/cost attractive nanoparticles) and from better characterisation tools and control of processes that were already widely established in industries (e.g. PVD and CVD processes for coatings). However, nanotechnology has not significantly contributed to lighter vehicles structures and powertrain systems nor to more efficient or alternative propulsion systems. Failing to meet the full set of industrial requirements (e.g. production volumes, automation and / or quality assurance) is preventing further deployment into mass-markets whereas stringent performance requirements (e.g. stiffness, strength, wear-resistance) at reasonable cost has limited its use on vehicle parts such as windows or bumpers. Stringent certification requirements derived from transporting human beings but also long development times and costs (especially relevant in the aeronautics sector) do not ease the situation. Looking into the future, nanotechnology will keep penetrating into the transport sector provided that it delivers clear advantages as compared to competing solutions that still offer room for significant improvements. Despite the long lifetimes of transport vehicles (from 10 to more than 30 years) results in a slow market penetration rate, it also results in potentially huge advantages (e.g. 99.9% of the energy consumption during an aircraft lifetime is consumed during use) that could justify investments in new materials, processes or tools.
Specifically, coatings and surface treatments are likely to continue to be the fastest growing sectors both in vehicles' parts and in tooling and production equipment. Coating technologies are more mature, can benefit from developments in other sectors and can offer clear benefits in the short term (e.g. increased tooling lifetime). Besides, the increasing use of composites foreseen in the transport sector will favour the use of nanoparticles (e.g reducing costs or weight) and, as technologies mature, nanofibres (e.g. improving mechanical performance). In terms of metals, new technologies to produce nanostructured metals are likely to have limited applications mainly due to the limited size of the parts that can be produced. Nevertheless, metals can benefit from improved modelling and simulation tools that could lead to a tremendous impact at a fraction of the cost, as they would have little interference on existing processes.
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