A multidisciplinary design team consisting of undergraduate and graduate students from Aerospace Engineering, Applied Earth Sciences, Industrial Design and Mechanical Engineering at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands is designing a lightweight, sustainable car. 1 Their goal is to design a family car with a maximum mass of 400 kg. Mass is an important factor in the fuel consumption of a car, a light car can be very energy efficient. The target mass is less than half of that of normal cars. (European family cars usually weigh about 1200 kg and the average American car weighs 1360...
A multidisciplinary design team consisting of undergraduate and graduate students from Aerospace Engineering, Applied Earth Sciences, Industrial Design and Mechanical Engineering at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands is designing a lightweight, sustainable car. 1 Their goal is to design a family car with a maximum mass of 400 kg. Mass is an important factor in the fuel consumption of a car, a light car can be very energy efficient. The target mass is less than half of that of normal cars. (European family cars usually weigh about 1200 kg and the average American car weighs 1360 kg). Another requirement is that the car should be manufactured at affordable mass production costs. 2
The design of such a unique car presents not only significant technical hurdles, but it also introduces many ethical issues such as minimum safety requirements and the need to incorporate sustainability considerations. This web-based case study will present the major safety and sustainability points in the ethical debate over ultra-lightweight vehicles and then ask the reader to consider a series of thought-provoking questions for both topics. For those using this website for an assignment, you have the option of sending your responses to your professor or teaching assistant.
In addition to reading and responding to the ethical issues in the design of ultra-lightweight vehicles, interested readers can see how the answers to both sets of questions from a sample of students from the United States compared to those of Dutch students. The case study was piloted in a Technology and Ethics class comprised of engineering students from various disciplines at the University of Virginia as well as a group of students in Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology. While many answers were very similar between the two distinctly different student groups, many attitudes are quite different. Educators using this case may want to add an additional question to the assignment that asks students hypothesize why answers between the two groups of engineering students may be similar or different.
We would like to thank the DutchEVO design team for their cooperation. This research was sponsored by an NSF grant (#0135585) for the Online Ethics Center under the direction of Caroline Whitbeck.
Pictures courtesy of the DutchEVO.
The World Commission on Environment and Development, the Brundtland-commission (WCED, 1987) proposed the following definition of sustainable development: Sustainable Development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
1. The concept of "needs", in particular the essential needs of the world"s poor, to which overriding priority should be given.
2. The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment"s ability to meet present and future needs.
When following the Brundtland definition it is not clear what makes a car sustainable - should the car be recyclable, be lightweight, or should it not be built in the first place in order to be sustainable? Designers within the same design team interpret the term sustainability differently as can be seen in the answers given when asked what sustainability means. Some refer to the closing of the material cycle by recycling, others refer to energy and resource efficiency during production and use, and some focus on the energy consumption during the use phase (90% of the total life cycle energy is used during the use phase) of the car.
These different definitions are not always compatible. Lightweight materials are often difficult to recycle, but the energy consumption of a very light car is very low. European legislation requires that within ten years 95% 1 of the materials in cars should be recyclable. The design team does not want to comply with this percentage; they would rather build a very light "throw-away after use car" than a heavy steel car that can be recycled. Their argument for this choice is that most energy is consumed during use of the car and that mass is a large factor in energy consumption during use. A lightweight car would therefore require much less fuel than normal cars. This would also mean that, other things being equal, the CO2 emissions of lightweight cars would be less than that of normal cars.
Questions and comments about this case can be directed to Missy Cummings, Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Anke van Gorp, Delft University of Technology.
Picture courtesy of HyperCar Center®
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