In-Car Tech

Volvo giving its cars new technology that measures in-vehicle pollutants

Volvo's Advanced Air Cleaner technology allows owners to be more informed about the environmet of their vehicle.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Cars

Volvo drivers will be able to see the quality of the air inside their vehicle thanks to new, first-to-market technology from the automaker. Called Advanced Air Cleaner, the tech includes a sensor that measures PM 2.5 levels inside the cabin.

PM 2.5 is a measurement that is widely used for air quality. It measures the amount of fine particulate matter in the air. High amounts of fine particulates can be an indication of pollution.

An air quality index rating of below 50 is considered good. Over 100 is hazardous to those with breathing-sensitive medical conditions. Over 200 is considered unhealthy while over 300 is considered hazardous.

Volvo Advanced Air Cleaner The car's infotaiment system displays the air quality amount for owners to see.Photo courtesy of Volvo Cars

In urban regions, PM 2.5 measurements are frequently above the amount recommended by the World Health Organization due to various forms of pollution.

This morning, the air quality in still-smokey San Francisco is 61. Springville, California, near the SQF Complex fire, has an air quality index ratio of 424. At the same time, Minneapolis, Minnesota has a ratings of 11. The main causes of these less-than-ideal numbers are high amounts of PM 2.5 in the atmosphere.

The new technology will be available on Volvo models built on the company's Scalable Product Architecture. This includes the Volvo V90, V90 Cross Country, XC90, and all 60 series models. It uses a synthetic fiber-based filter and ionization, up to 95 percent of all PM 2.5 particles are kept out of the cabin.

The Volvo infotainment system and app allow drivers to check the PM 2.5 levels in their vehicle.

Volvo Advanced Air Cleaner The Volvo app allows users to check the PM 2.5 levels of their vehicle remotely.Photo courtesy of Volvo Cars

"With our Advanced Air Cleaner technology, you can rest assured that the air you breathe inside your Volvo is cleaner and healthier," said Anders Löfvendahl, senior technical expert on cabin air quality at Volvo Cars. "We believe that clean air is good for you, both from a health and from a safety perspective, and will continue to push the envelope in this area."

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Volvo has teamed up with the City of Gothenburg to create an emissions-free zone.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

Volkswagen recently announced that it's turning a Greek island green. Volvo is taking their efforts a little closer to home. Volvo Cars has teamed up with the City of Gothenburg, in Sweden, to create new urban zones that will be used as testbeds for future sustainable technologies. Volvo's headquarters is located just west of the town center.

Gothenburg Green City Zone aims to create an emissions-free zone within Sweden's largest port city, taking a holistic approach that will combine the efforts of many technological and government entities working together. To achieve this, the partnership is looking toward climate-neutral transportation modes and a connected infrastructure. As part of the testbed, Volvo plans to run robotaxis operated by its fully-owned mobility provider M, within the zone.

2-Volvo XC40 Recharge The all-electric Volvo XC40 Recharge recently went on sale in the U.S.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

"Essentially, we initiate a project that intends to limit the number of cars in the city – which is fully in line with our company's purpose," said Håkan Samuelsson, chief executive of Volvo Cars. "This is already proven by our investment in the shared mobility service M, who have developed proprietary A.I. technology to improve efficiency and utilization. We want to be involved in creating the cities of the future and keep them livable. This initiative gives us an opportunity to do that and take on responsibility in our own hometown at the same time."

Technology that will be tested in the zone includes geo-enabling solutions and services ensuring that cars in the zone operate in electric-only mode and remain within speed limits, as well as traffic infrastructure that can connect to active safety features in cars and share information between road users. Audi is testing similar vehicle-to-infrastructure technology in Georgia and Virginia.

"We want to use our knowledge and technology to help create a future city that is electrified, connected, shared and climate-neutral," said Henrik Green, Chief Technology Officer at Volvo Cars. "This is an opportunity to lead by example, by testing new technologies and services in a live large scale environment, we can show that if it is possible here, it is possible anywhere."

The partnership is also exploring fully electric mobility hubs, autonomous taxis, and an easy-to-use charging network for electric cars. One aspect of this technology may be park-and-charge sans cord, a method that is getting tested in Norway right now.

Volvo isn't the first city to develop an incubator for emerging tech. Toyota recently announced that it will expand the company's research into renewable energy by creating a city at the base of Mt. Fuji.

The Green City Zone initiative starts in spring 2021 and will gradually scale up going forward.

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A general view of the Mercedes Laver Cup cars in front of TD Garden in promotion of Laver Cup Boston 2020 on March 2, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images for The Laver Cup

The 2050 Decorbonization Roadmap laid out by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in December makes it clear, the sale of new gasoline-powered cars will end by 2035. It's all part of the Commonwealth government's push to Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Though it's not law, the guidelines set forth in the plan make it clear that the internal combustion vehicle is marked for dead despite the current very low rate of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicle adoption. Despite pushes from government, advocacy groups, and the automakers themselves, the public just isn't buying electric vehicles at a high volume. In the last 10 years, there have been just 1.6 million plug-in electric vehicles sold in the U.S.(BEVs and PHEVs) out of over 156 million light-duty vehicles sold in the U.S. during the same time period according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Ford sold more than 1.6 million F-150s in 2018-2019 alone.

2020 Hyundai Nexo The Hyundai Nexo runs on a hydrogen fuel cell rather than a traditional electric battery setup. Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Effectively, Massachusetts is set to eliminate choice for its residents, a move that echos recent action by the State of California.

The Roadmap looks to slowly reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions using the measurement of million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e). The baseline the study uses for measurement is 1990, where there was 94.5 MMTCO2e in the Commonwealth. 2005 was the last year where emissions were above that level. They've been sinking since.

By 2017, emissions were 22.7 percent below 1990 numbers nearing the 70.8 MMTCO2e goal set by the commonwealth for 2020. Sixty-nine percent of that is from households and light-duty vehicles. Light-duty vehicles make 27 percent of the state's emissions.

Efforts to decarbonize come in four areas: end use energy (transitioning away from fossil fuels), energy flexibility and efficiency (aggressively pursuing energy efficiency and flexibility to enable cost-effective decarbonization), decarbonizing energy supply (production of zero and low-carbon energy supplies), and carbon sequestration (facilitating carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere).

The Roadmap contends that "although several clean options already exist for both light-duty transportation and for home and small business building services, across our in-depth analysis, electrification tends to be the most cost-effective - both individually and system-wide - and easiest to deploy." Basically, if the government requires buyers to purchase more electric cars, their cost will go down and that area of the graph is "fixed".

A 2021 Toyota Mirai fills up with fuel at a station in Southern California.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

The report doesn't completely neglect hydrogen use in vehicles. It says that "zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen help power the rest of the transportation system". By "the rest" they mean vehicles that aren't cars, trucks, or buses. That means high-load transportation vehicles like tractor trailers will be able to use hydrogen but the public would be discouraged from purchasing and driving a Toyota Mirai or Hyundai Nexo, both of which run on hydrogen fuel cell (FCEV) technology, are available for sale today, and produce only water vapor out of the tailpipe.

Massachusetts and other states in the northeast face a unique barrier to widespread hydrogen fuels adoption. According to Toyota, in the 1980s, many municipalities in the area outlawed the transportation of combustable fuels over bridges and through tunnels. Using hydrogen as a fuel in vehicles is not as risky as traditional transportation methods because of the technology that has evolved to protect the fuel, vehicle, and passengers. However, these laws have not changed to accommodate the advances. This means that driving a FCEV over a bridge or through a tunnel in some areas is illegal despite the fact that a neighboring jurisdiction may have modernized their regulations.

Most automakers are willing to publicly admit that their company views FCEVs as the endgame while battery electric vehicles (BEVs) like the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model 3 as merely roadways to the full FCEV future.

The Roadmap spells out other ways in which the Commonwealth is committed to reducing the amount of fossil fuels emitted by vehicles including maintenance and support of existing public transportation systems, reducing single occupancy vehicles "where possible", making complementary land use decisions, and supporting active transportation architecture like bike lanes and sidewalks.

The report lays out the biggest obstacle facing wider spread adoption of electric vehicles by residents, the development of dependable and accessible charging infrastructure throughout the Commonwealth and in residents' homes. Europe, which is far ahead of the U.S in terms of regulating certain types of vehicles into popularity and the government subsidization of energy initiatives, still struggles with charging infrastructure woes.

Uncovered in the plan are the business consequences of the actions set forth. Assuming not as many people will need gasoline to run their vehicles, it is likely that gas stations will go out of business. The transportation of fossil fuels has its own sector of the industry that will be made mostly redundant. Vehicle service centers, often independent retailers, will be forced to spend big on equipment so that they can service electric vehicles as they gain popularity due to government regulation. Recently, many Cadillac dealerships balked at the quarter-million dollar cost of installing EV repair and service technology at their dealerships instead electing to give up their dealership rights entirely.

The report does say that "close attention and vigilant care is given to mitigate any undue or avoidable impact or burden on Massachusetts' residents across the Commonwealth's entire economic, social, and geographic diversity."

However, t does not cover what could happen if new vehicle buyers simply cross the border into Maine, Rhode Island, or Connecticut and purchase their new internal combustion vehicle there.

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