Clean Air
to Breathe

How we can reduce emissions despite increasing volumes of traffic – many technology solutions are already available

What actually makes up air? Although the generally acknowledged composition is not a natural constant, the main elements have remained largely stable for 350 million years: 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, plus a little argon, carbon dioxide and a few other gases. That is the way it should stay. Every effort is therefore required to continue reducing the rates of CO2, nitrogen dioxide and other emissions such as fine particles. There are plenty of promising innovations around.

Traffic on the rise

When the first cars rumbled along the roads toward the end of the 19th century, individual mobility was an exclusive commodity reserved for a few affluent people about town. Only with the release of automotive milestones rolling off assembly lines in the shape of Ford’s Tin Lizzie, the Citroën 2CV or the VW Beetle was it opened up to the broader population. The more people who could afford a car, the busier the roads became. Meanwhile, with increasing wealth, the vehicles themselves also grew, leading to more powerful engines, greater displacements, rising fuel consumption and, consequently, ever more emissions – all of which were given next to no consideration for many decades.




Emissions are falling – but not enough

Environmental awareness and the need for climate change mitigation began to grow only when fuel prices rose as a result of the oil crisis in the early 1970s and as the air became increasingly polluted, leading to driving restrictions in many cities. Even back then, technological innovations were helping to reduce the burden considerably. Industrial production sites were fitted with better filter systems and the catalytic converter became mandatory for new vehicles in Germany, for example, in 1984. As a result, air quality in Germany improved to such an extent that all federal states repealed their smog regulations in the 1990s. Yet did that solve the problem? By no means. After all, polluted air is a formidable problem in urban areas worldwide, and one that endangers the health of millions of people. In addition, there is the general trend towards ever larger vehicles such as the SUV (sport utility vehicles). So how can we counteract the global increase in vehicle numbers and their growing weight with falling emissions? One thing is clear: in order to win this race, new and, above all, practicable solutions are needed.

A combination of drive systems – for cleaner air


When it comes to improving air quality, electric mobility is going to be invaluable in the future. This is, of course, requires that electricity be generated from renewable sources. However, electric mobility has yet to realize its full potential, which is why, by itself, it will not be the solution to sustainable climate protection. This was why Dr. Elmar Degenhart, Continental CEO, called for a more comprehensive approach at the Automobilwoche Kongress event in Berlin in November 2017, stating: “To mitigate climate change effectively, we need a combination of drive systems as a means of handling the transition between technologies. This comprises electric and hybrid drives, clean diesel and gasoline engines, carbon neutral synthetic fuels and fuel cells.”

Governments banning internal combustion technology and failing to take proper account of technological realities is not the right way to go, he asserted, particularly because acceptance of new types of drives among consumers is not easy to bring about. When it comes to electricity generation, Dr. Degenhart added: The contribution of e-mobility to climate change mitigation is highly dependent on how the electricity is generated and on COemissions. In most markets, the electric drive already has a slight advantage over the internal combustion engine in terms of CO. However, the share of electric vehicles in the global fleet is increasing relatively slowly, which is why the impact of electric vehicles on the carbon footprint will become significant only over a longer period of time. Here, it would be wise if government policy – rather than merely providing specific target requirements – supported research and development as a whole to a greater degree. In doing so, more attention should be paid to creating reliable and long-term framework conditions.”

Trends in passenger numbers and goods volumes, using the EU as an example
Source: International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), 2016: 1. New European Driving Cycle, 2. US light-duty vehicles, 3. In 2020 mandatory for 95 % of the OEMs’ fleets. As of 2021 mandatory for 100 %, 4. China’s target reflects a gasoline fleet scenario. With other fuel types included, the target would be lower.

If only Rudolf Diesel had known

The synthetic fuel oxymethylene ether (OME) helps to reduce COemissions by a considerable margin. But just what is OME? How does the technology behind it work? What potential does it offer? Find out more about the environmentally friendly fuel.

Synthetic fuels – explained in a simple way!


Taking action – because visions do not fulfill themselves

There are plenty of opportunities to help improve air quality. That is why environmentally conscious manufacturing and a sustainable supply chain are fundamental parts of how Continental operates.

1.  Commitment to CO2 reduction and environmental protection

Continental has earned the company numerous accolades in recent years, including the European Transport Award for Sustainability, the GreenTec Award, the Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize, the International busplaner Sustainability Award and the Materialica Design and Technology Award.

2. Sustainable supply chain

Environmental protection is nothing new: Continental launched the first environmental management system more than 30 years ago. The sustainable supply chain is still an integral part of the 2020 environmental strategy today. By then, all strategic suppliers will be expected to fulfill the ISO 14001 international environmental management standard. This is an ambitious yet achievable aim. Around 85 percent of the Automotive Group’s suppliers and 73 percent of the Rubber Group’s suppliers were certified according to ISO 14001 in 2016.

3. Pilot project in Mexico

In 2015, we set up a collaborative network with local Mexican suppliers with our pilot project aimed at sustainability in the Mexican supply chain. The project, supported by Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, is aimed at improving environmental performance among Continental suppliers at a local level through the transfer of best practices, one-on-one consulting and training, focusing on environmental management system certification in line with ISO 14001. Numerous workshops and consultations dealt primarily with reducing CO2 emissions but also with water management and waste prevention.

4. Green Plant Label for sustainable production

Motivation is everything, which is why Continental presented its internal Green Label Plant Award for the first time in 2016. This prize is intended to boost sustainability in global production within the Automotive Group. Above all, it is about efficiency in dealing with resources such as energy, water and waste. There are Gold, Silver and Bronze awards, depending on the sustainable commitment of the location in question. All production locations are expected to achieve at least Bronze status by 2020 – with 28 percent having already achieved this by the end of 2016.

5. Consuming less, recycling more

High tech and the conservation of resources go hand in hand. A good example of this is Continental’s location in Nuremberg, which was among the winners of the Bavarian Energy Award in 2016. The same year saw the location win further acclaim, with the Nuremberg Energy Region’s skills initiative choosing the location as a winner in energy efficiency for 2017. The new combined heat and power plant there enables savings that equate to the energy needs of roughly 350 homes. Overall, the plan is to cut energy and water consumption, CO2 emissions and waste in production by 20 percent (compared with 2013) based on adjusted sales by 2020.

Learn more about economics and ecology as our basis for sustainable value creation.

Did you know:

Ten interesting facts about renewable energy

1. No traffic jams in the ant world

An interesting fact: although ant nests are full of insects scuttling and swarming along every possible route, traffic jams are unheard of. Faster ants do not overtake slower ants, but adjust their speed instead – a great example to everyone who wants to move forward.

2. The longest traffic jam of all time

It may be one way of getting into the Guinness Book of Records, but those sitting in the world’s longest traffic jam in 1980 probably saw no cause for celebration when traffic came to a halt on a stretch between Paris and Lyon, extending 176 km.

3. A lifetime in stop-and-go traffic

Another good reason for autonomous driving is that, statistically, the average German spends more than two and a half days per year stuck in traffic.

4. First congestion update on German radio

The first traffic jam in Germany took place on April 23, 1961. The reason we know the exact date is that it was reported on the radio: “Nothing is moving between Cologne and Leverkusen” – due to a phenomenal six kilometers of gridlock caused by construction.

5. The world’s most congested road network

Another infamous superlative: At 7:00 p.m. local time on June 11, 2009, the road network in the metropolitan area of São Paulo, Brazil, suffered traffic jams across a total distance of 293 km.

6. Forecasting traffic

Monitoring traffic has long been a science in itself, and the data produced is enormously important for traffic planning. For example, traffic density is a mathematically defined variable calculated on the basis of the number of elements in a flow of traffic per distance unit at a particular time (x).

7. Changing lanes to go more quickly: a common error

Is it possible to beat the traffic by changing lanes frequently? The answer is clear: no. In fact, the opposite is true. Changing lanes actually hinders the overall flow of traffic, as it reinforces the waves of deceleration moving back down the line.

8. The discovery of slowness

Until 1898, the police in New York used bicycles to chase speeding automobiles. Meanwhile, when the first traffic regulations were put in place in Germany, the state of Hesse, for example, stipulated that under no circumstances would a car be permitted to drive at a speed greater than a horse trotting at a moderate pace.

9. Clean air has always been relative

Before cars, there were no problems with emissions. Is that really true? Around 1900, more than 10,000 carriages and many thousands of omnibuses drawn by as many as 12 horses at once navigated the streets of London every day. Each horse produced up to 15 kilograms of manure. 





It was estimated in 1894 that if this had continued for another 50 years, every road in London would have been filled with manure to a height of three meters. The situation was no better in other cities – and nor was the smell. Horses in New York produced approximately 1,000 metric tons of droppings every day. So you see, emissions – albeit of a different type – were having a thoroughly detrimental effect on clean air even then.

10.Traffic on Mars

There is definitely no traffic congestion on Mars. After four successful Mars rover missions with several remote-controlled vehicles, there is still plenty of room on the planet for unrestricted mobility. Incidentally, the rovers used are exemplary in terms of the environment, powered by solar and electric power, which does not pollute Mars’ atmosphere.

As the lunar vehicles used on the moon for the NASA missions were also electrically powered, you could say that there are already at least two celestial bodies in the universe with fully electrified mobility.

Maintaining clean air for all of humanity is one of the greatest challenges of our time. How we achieve this in the face of constantly growing levels of traffic is up to all of us. Many innovations are already available, and making judicious use of a combination of technologies relating to environmentally conscious mobility can help in achieving sustainable results.

Electromobility at Continental is extremely versatile.

Continental Magazine Issue 1/2018