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Q&A with Pilkington Automotive: environmental rating for glazing

By Matthew Beecham | 25 April 2012

NSG Automotive Group is developing a rating system that will quantify the environmental impact of automotive products throughout their life and give an insight into how this is offset during the life of the vehicle. Matthew Beecham talked with Andy Richards, Global Product Manager, Pilkington Automotive Limited to find out more.

How did you set about preparing such a rating system?

We recognise that sustainability is critical for vehicle makers, consumer, society and our general way of life. By looking at and measuring the life cycle proposition of our automotive products, it allows for a more educated choice regarding our activities as a supplier, but also OEM choice as a vehicle maker.

How will does it work? And what does it take into consideration?

The system is still in the development stages, but is envisaged to take into account the full lifecycle of the product, including the manufacture, use and recyclability. Glazing products can be used as solutions to allow for reduced energy consumption from other systems, so off-setting these savings will allow for an environmental payback period to be defined.

In what ways can automotive glazing help to reduce CO2 emissions and energy consumption?

It can help in every way conceivable, from energy reduction in manufacture, savings during use by offering more efficient ways to solve problems, all the way through to actual energy generation.

For example, blowing hot air at a windscreen is a very inefficient way to defrost and de-mist a vehicle’s windscreen. Where we have waste heat from an internal combustion engine, this is normally not a major issue but as the world moves towards alternative drive trains, we need to find alternatives. So actively heating the windscreen at modest power levels gives better speed and efficiency for defrosting and de-icing - solving exactly the same problem in an environmentally-friendly way.

Automotive glazing can help with the vehicle cooling too. By reducing the amount of heat coming into the vehicle in hot ambient conditions, the cooling requirement on the vehicle systems is consequently reduced. Advanced solar control coatings and glass compositions can dramatically reduce the solar loading that the vehicle interior sees.

Glass can be used as a substrate for photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert the sun’s energy to electricity.  Solar panels on vehicles can be used to power ventilating fans to draw heat from the vehicle when it is parked in the hot sun, or to trickle-charge batteries.  For example, the Prius roof glass has built-in solar cells to run a fan, cooling the car while parked in the sun. Could we expect to see more solar panels on cars?  How will the PV cell market evolve on tomorrow’s car?

The PV market needs to meet some challenges for automotive applications as the durability and environmental requirements for automotive are quite extreme and this needs to be addressed.

The most practical place for PV applications on vehicles is the horizontal surfaces – mainly the roof. As consumers have been enjoying the benefits of glazed roofs in increasing numbers, this poses further questions. Where is the compromise point between enjoying the feeling of light and space offered by glazed roofs against the benefits from power generation with PV panels?

The ideal offering would be a combination of the two; a PV roof panel which offers some level of transparency at reasonable conversion efficiency and that can be incorporated to a curved automotive surface.

The market looks promising if these challenges can be addressed at affordable prices. CO2 incentives are currently being drawn into legislation to help allow vehicle makers to adopt these technologies and ensure that a plan for the future exists, and this offers hope.

Where do you see the opportunities for polycarbonate glazing in the automotive industry?

Polycarbonate glazing is a product area that still does not yet fully meet the market needs. The mass reduction opportunity is very promising but still comes with some compromises regarding durability, optical performance, dimensional stability and function.

With thought to the integration, some of these challenges can be overcome but the contribution to vehicle weight is still likely to be the major appealing feature for vehicle makers. The most likely for apertures integration still remain rooflights and small quarterlights.