Faurecia Clean Mobility develops and produces novel solutions to drive mobility and industry toward zero emissions. Its R&D focus includes hydrogen fuel cell and battery packs. To learn more about this exhausting business, we spoke to Andrew Pontius, Vice President, Light-Vehicle Product Lines, North America, Faurecia Clean Mobility.

What are the megatrends in the automotive emissions industry and how could they shape the look and feel of tomorrow's solutions?

If we go really high level on the megatrends from a regulatory standpoint, we're talking about CO2 and then all of your criteria pollutants. Globally, we're converging on this downward curve of the CO2 footprints of our vehicles, and we're also converging on two things when it comes to criteria pollutants. The first thing is the outright reduction of the criteria pollutants. The second – and it's hard to call this a megatrend – is the result of the megatrend of everybody driving towards a greener planet.

I like to think that RDE [Real Driving Emissions] awareness is one of the good things that came out of Dieselgate, because everybody realised, 'Hey, these vehicles operate in modes other than what they're tested in and they don't always burn clean when they're operating in modes other than what they're tested in.' Even if you're in a non-cheat situation, they operate differently when they're outside of the test parameters because it's a different part of the calibration map of the engine. So, real driving emissions is going to be huge, influencing the behaviour of the OEMs and suppliers when it comes to emissions.

Any other positives from Dieselgate?

There is a heightened awareness of regulatory conformance and the entire industry has a more serious attitude towards regulatory conformance at this point in time.           

The unfortunate thing that came out of it was the vilification of diesel, which is really unfair to diesels because we've made huge strides to clean up diesels in the past decade, both the OEs as well as the supply base. I don't see it having a huge effect on diesels in North America except to say that there were some people who were thinking diesels were going to have a comeback in North America, but Dieselgate truncated that.  I don't see diesels making any serious penetration except for the strong foothold that they already have in the medium and heavy-duty trucks.

The other positive on Dieselgate is that the public was uninformed regarding how the regulations worked and what the OEMs were doing to meet those regulations. So one of the good things that came out of it is that the buying public – the end consumer – is more aware now of whether or not the car they're buying is green. So they research it and they're actually interested to know, 'Is it going to be a green vehicle when I take it down the road?'

For some time, we've noticed how carmakers have paid close attention to exhaust sound in order to maintain and enhance its brand. How do you set about supporting the carmakers achieve the right note?

Every automaker absolutely has a signature sound that they're aiming for, for their vehicles. The language of exhaust sound is a very interesting one. [OEMs] use words like 'angry', 'throaty', 'muffly' or 'gravelly'. So there are different tone descriptors that they use. At the end of the day, it's a huge part of the personality of the vehicle. They want the people on the street when they hear a Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro coming, they want people to know what it is before they see it. Faurecia has crafted the sound of the Camaro and Mustang pretty much forever. We also crafted the sound of the Dodge Charger and Challenger for FCA. In Europe, there are plenty of sportier vehicles that we've been part of for companies like Alfa Romeo, Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes where we have crafted a lot of those tailpipe notes. It's something we take great pride in, and our customers very much appreciate and enjoy.            

One of the downsides of downsized engines and turbocharged engines is that you no longer have the V8 sound if you go down to a 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. One of the things that we offer is augmented exhaust sound with the use of a speaker in the exhaust system. We call that 'exhaust dynamic sound generation,' or EDSG. With EDSG, we can take a 4-cylinder and make it sound more muscular, more like a V8. To be fair, these small 4-cylinder engines are capable of over 300 horsepower, so they deserve to have a muscular sound, but it's very difficult to elicit that sound from a small turbocharged 4-cylinder.

We understand that Faurecia has developed a better way to suppress resonance. Could you tell us about your new resonator and how it came about? I believe there were concerns about packaging components in the car's underbody …

Yes, you've got onto it quite well actually. The cool thing is it's about getting rid of the resonator. We call it 'resonance-free pipe.' Typically in a long tailpipe, the resonator is placed to break up that tailpipe resonance and give you an expansion chamber to take the energy out of that resonance wave, and what we've discovered is that if we put holes, usually two or three small holes roughly 20mm in diameter into the pipe at those resonance peaks we can take the resonance peak and basically dissipate that energy.           

The problem – and I'm taking you very quickly through the evolution of resonance-free pipe – is if you put those holes at the right place you kill the resonance but you let out a lot of gas and sound that really ruins the benefits of killing the resonance. What we've found is that we can place a micro-perforated patch over the top of that hole and weld that patch in place so that it couples the exhaust resonance wave energy. It couples that to the ambient environment in such a way that it vents the energy without letting a lot of gas or sound out through the patch. These micro-perforations are thousands of an inch, fractions of a millimetre in size and there are many of those small perforations in the patch. It allows us to achieve a coupling to ambient without releasing a lot of gas and noise, while at the same time still keeping the benefit of killing the resonance. That is in production on over 600,000 pick-up trucks with General Motors this year alone.

The benefit is mass, so you're talking about 3, 4, 5 kg potentially, and then also packaging, because putting that resonator, which if you imagine a resonator about the size of a kitchen roll, then that's the size of the object that we're trying to place underneath a complex vehicle. Then placing that sometimes causes you to have to route your pipe in very awkward directions, resulting in hanger rod placement difficulties and driving manufacturing complexity. So, we really can achieve a simpler product that packages better underneath the vehicle and saves mass for the customer.

Faurecia Clean Mobility is investing significant resources in optimising the potential of hydrogen fuel-cell technology for the automotive sector. Could you tell us a little about the focus of your research in this area?

We believe very strongly in an electrified future, and in the near-term electrified means hybrids and some people who adopt BEV [Battery Electric Vehicles]. The BEV future will be shared between pure battery electric and range-extended battery electric with hydrogen fuel cell technology on board. It's especially important for commercial vehicles, long haul trucks, large commercial vehicles with long haul capability to be able to "refuel" or "recharge" very fast and get back on the road to maximise their utility, especially when we talk about autonomous commercial vehicles that are coming. Those will be nearly 100 per cent utilised and they can't sit charging for hours on end.           

So, we see a combo future with battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell, and our play there, our pivot is to say, 'Okay, we're going to continue to drive innovations for the ICE powertrain, for the typical exhaust system where we're helping with energy recovery, we're helping with things like heated catalysts to help with the real driving emissions.' But when we start to see the electrified future ramp up, we are also making a play into what we're calling a composite and mixed material battery case offering. This is a completely new offering for Faurecia that I'm excited about because we have a combination of technologies with steel, aluminium, glass-reinforced composites, carbon fibre composites, where we can put together this mixed material battery case that's designed specifically for the needs of each of the OEMs for their battery enclosures and it becomes an integrated part of the body. This is the near-term play for us in the electrified future.           

The longer term play is the hydrogen fuel cell systems. At a minimum, we're already working on the hydrogen fuel cell tanks. So this is a carbon fibre wound tubular tank that holds hydrogen at 700 bar, which is an incredible amount of pressure, which is why the cylindrical shape is so important to withstand that kind of pressure. The other part of the play is working on a smaller more energy-dense fuel cell stack where the hydrogen is converted into electricity. Those two things together constitute a huge percentage of the overall hydrogen fuel cell system.           

Under wraps right now is our relationship with Michelin on a joint venture called Symbio; Symbio will be coming out from the anti-trust approval here very soon and we'll be able to share with everybody then what it is that Symbio brings to market with respect to the hydrogen fuel cell system. I can only say at this point that I'm very excited what the hydrogen fuel cell future might mean for Faurecia.

What will be the most important ICE technology for emission control over the next 10 years?

I see the big driver here being the further constraining of the allowable criteria pollutants, so this is Euro 6. That is going to drive some new technologies, but it's mostly going to drive a lot more precious metals. The real driving emissions is what I see as being a really big driver. Real driving emissions is going to say, 'Okay, if I'm in a hybrid and I'm going up a hill and all of a sudden I have to fire up a cold engine at high load to take over because the battery is no longer able to sustain my uphill momentum, that engine is going to come on dirty because the catalyst isn't hot.' So, I see a huge need for pre-heated, or at least quickly heated catalysts, and these will be electrically heated in order to assist in the amount of time it takes to light off the precious metal catalyst.