The Importance of using Lightweight Vehicles in an Increasing Global Population

With increasing global population, lightweight vehicles have become extremely important due to a number of factors. For instance, when the mass is larger, more energy is needed to move it. This holds true in an aircraft, where more mass needs more power to maintain it in level flight. Similarly, in other vehicles such as cars, trains, or trucks, more mass means more power would be needed to speed up and keep them moving. However, reducing the mass not only reduces fuel consumption, but also reduces the amount of emissions produced.

Increased Global Vehicle Sales

Global population has increased and is set to continue, but the fundamental laws of motion have not altered since the beginning of time. It has been estimated that worldwide population will grow to more than 10 billion people by 2050. It's predicted that global vehicle sales will reach an all time high. Therefore, the need to improve the use of lightweight materials in current transport systems becomes even more critical, and would also help in addressing the international commitment to reduce carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Over the next three decades, the UK intends to reduce greenhouse emissions by 80%. To meet this goal, it is important to reduce the mass of vehicles.

Paying the Price

While alternative energy sources such as wind and solar are available, they could not substitute fossil fuels quickly. Fuel cost coupled with high fines for missing CO2 targets are key drivers to improve lightweight materials.

Lightweight materials play an important role in the automotive industry. In fact, the use of these materials is estimated to grow from 30% to 70% by the year 2030. This is because even a 10% decrease in vehicle weight reduces fuel consumption by roughly 6%, which in turn results in reduced CO2 emissions. Car manufacturers in Europe intend to reduce CO2 emissions in vehicles from 140g CO2/km to 95g by 2020. In such scenarios, every kg is important.

In the aerospace industry, fuel accounts for 35% of operating expenses. Here, sophisticated lightweight materials are crucial to the future of airlines. This industry is committed to carbon neutral growth by 2020 and plans to build 12,000 fuel efficient aircraft to meet this objective.

Present jet aircraft are approximately 80% more efficient when compared to their 1960s counterpart. For instance, the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 are lightweight and made mostly from aluminium and carbon fiber. They utilize 20% less fuel and generate 20% fewer emissions when compared to aircraft of similar sizes. That enhancement can save an airline as much as 10 million liters of fuel per year, per aircraft.

The Here and Now

The Heathrow airport in London uses the Personal Rapid Transit Pod (PRT), which provides a lightweight transport solution and also aids in reducing the environmental impact (Figure 1). These electric vehicles are not only lightweight and eco-friendly, but also operate efficiently and weigh just 850kgs/pod. They connect Heathrow’s business car park to Terminal 5.

Personal Rapid Transit Pod used as Heathrow.

Figure 1. Personal Rapid Transit Pod used as Heathrow.

A detailed video from AusBusinessTraveller's Youtube channel shows how the Pod personal rapid transit system installed in the Heathrow airport takes passengers around the airport.

Guided video tour: Heathrow Pod personal rapid transit system

These driverless pods are set to benefit Milton Keynes, a town center based in the UK. In fact, more than 20 vehicles have been planned for operation by 2015, plus an additional 80 vehicles are set to enter operation by 2017.


In the present environment, the use of lightweight vehicles provides a practical solution in terms of reduced fuel cost and reduced CO2 emissions. With numerous international commitments to reduce CO2 emissions, these state-of-the art lightweight vehicles are set to redefine modern transport system.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by TRB Lightweight Structures Ltd.

For more information on this source, please visit TRB Lightweight Structures Ltd.


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