Vehicle fuel efficiency is on the rise, thanks in large part to chemistry

How popular are chemistry-enabled, fuel-efficient cars right now?

The average sales-weighted fuel economy for light-duty vehicles sold in July reached the record high of 24.8 mpg for the fourth time this year, according the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute’s Eco-Driving Index.

The number of hybrids sold in July was 45,494 – the largest amount since July 2009. And sales of plug-in and diesel vehicles rose as well. Hybrid, plug-in and diesel vehicles still represent a small slice of the market, however.

As the Daily Beast reports:

The real gains in the fleet’s mileage aren’t coming from futuristic vehicles that use no gas. They’re coming from substantial, continuous improvement to conventional cars. Thanks to engineering advances, SUVs, coupes, sedans, and sports of all makes get substantially better mileage today than they did last year, or just a few years ago.

The chemistry industry is enabling many of the engineering advances that make vehicles lighter and more energy-efficient.

From fuel additives and lubricants, to hydrocarbon-based ethanol, to high-tech plastic components, to catalysts that help achieve better fuel economy, chemistry is an important player in meeting our nation’s mileage and emissions goals.

Engine efficiency for reduced fuel consumption, lower emissions

Engine efficiency is among the “biggest levers” for emissions savings enabled by the chemical industry, according to a 2009 IHS report, with insulation materials, chemicals in agriculture and advanced lighting solutions leading the pack.

Diesel and gasoline fuel additives for deposit control and synthetic lubricants help reduce fuel consumption of the engine and, together, create annual global net savings of ~70 MtCO2e, the IHS report noted.

For example, the fuel consumption of an average car when consuming diesel with fuel additives is 2 percent less than without additives. Over the lifetime of a typical car with a diesel engine — 200,000 km and a fuel consumption of 8 liter/100 km — fuel consumption is reduced by 320 liters of diesel.

The savings resulting from gasoline fuel additives is comparable to that of diesel additives – with savings 348 liters of gasoline over the lifetime of a gasoline car.

Synthetic lubricants, compared to mineral lubricating oil, reduces the fuel consumption of an engine by 5 percent. From this in-use savings and the difference in emissions between producing synthetic versus mineral oils, the annual global net savings are estimated at 16 MtCO2e.

And let’s not forget plastics, which make up 50 percent of the volume of cars but only 10 percent of the weight, helping to make cars lighter and more fuel efficient and resulting in fewer CO₂ emissions.

For a list of 2013’s most fuel-efficient cars, click here.

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