Sustainable Future: Groupe Michelin Dedicates Eighth Challenge Bibendum to Fallen Leader - Tire Review Magazine

Sustainable Future: Groupe Michelin Dedicates Eighth Challenge Bibendum to Fallen Leader

Groupe Michelin Dedicates Eighth Challenge Bibendum to Fallen Leader

Brilliant minds, promising technologies and future hopes were tinged with sorrow at the eighth Challenge Bibendum, held June 8-12 in Paris.

Barely three weeks earlier, Groupe Michelin head Edouard Michelin died in a tragic boating accident.

Michel Rollier, who has taken the reigns as managing partner at the company, dedicated this year’s Challenge Bibendum to the memory of its most enthusiastic promoter.

“Challenge Bibendum would never have been created without Edouard Michelin,” Rollier told Challenge Bibendum attendees in the City of Light. “This whole adventure is quite extraordinary, and I would like to dedicate this eighth edition in Paris to him.”

Created in 1998 to commemorate the 100th birthday of Bibendum (aka the Michelin Man), Challenge Bibendum has rounded the globe in search of “sustainable road mobility.” The internationally recognized event brings together automakers, fuel companies, government agencies and research institutions and presents them with a challenge: Demonstrate safe, practical vehicle technologies that will enable continuing population growth but reduce detrimental impacts on the environment.

“When I say sustainable mobility,” Rollier remarked in the opening ceremony, “I’m talking about mobility that is cleaner, safer and more fuel efficient, capable of making continuous progress, even in a post-oil world.”

The ‘Challenge’

Some 2,500 participants – including 500 journalists from more than 40 countries and 600 technology participants – gathered to address three specific issues: the energy challenge, urban mobility and road safety.

The energy challenge encompasses the development of alternative energy sources – such as biofuels like ethanol – that protect the environment. Urban mobility is concerned with reducing pollution, congestion and noise in the world’s most crowded cities, and road safety seeks to reduce the number of traffic-related deaths, which, worldwide, is expected to increase 67% by 2020.

French President Jacques Chirac and Jacques Barrot, vice president of the European Commission, participated in the event. “Mobility in the 21st century cannot be envisaged without taking into account requirements for economic development and a high level of respect for the environment,” said Barrot.

Michelin estimates that, by 2030, there will be twice as many cars on the road – 1.5 billion to be exact – than today, which will drastically increase worldwide carbon dioxide levels. And, with the rapid industrialization of countries such as India and China, the need to control atmospheric pollution and consider new energy sources is more critical than ever.

Lean and Green

A dozen automakers – including Audi, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Nissan, Peugeot Citroen, Toyota and Volvo – showcased a range of innovative vehicles that ran on electricity, hydrogen, compressed natural gas, diesel, ethanol, liquefied petroleum gas, methane, alcohol, gas-to-liquid fuels and regular gasoline.

Of note was the Volvo Multi-Fuel prototype, which can run on five fuels – bioethanol E85, natural gas, biomethane, petrol and hythane (a blend of hydrogen and methane). Volvo also entered its V50 Flexi-Fuel vehicle, running on bioethanol E85.

Another notable vehicle was the Mercedes-Benz Bionic Car, which features an aerodynamic body inspired by a tropical fish and an engine powered by diesel fuel. A third attention grabber was the ZOOOP from CourrÈges, which sports a yellow plexiglass dome and yellow Michelin Energy tires.

Michelin had its own entry – the Michelin Hy-Light, a prototype powered by a polymer electrolyte fuel cell and fueled by compressed hydrogen and oxygen stored in onboard tanks. The two gases are produced from sunlight and water in a “service station” made up of solar panels hooked up to an electrolysis unit. The electricity generated by the fuel cell is distributed to various electric motors within the vehicle.

To determine the efficiency and practicality of the proposed vehicles, performance was measured through technical tests defined by an International Technical Committee made up of manufacturers, academics, journalists and other road-transport specialists. Vehicles – divided into prototype and production classes – were tested under actual driving conditions and rated for environmental performance, safety and handling.

All of this testing was done at the CERAM, a test track and research facility in Mortefontaine, just north of Paris. Also at the CERAM, Challenge attendees had the chance to drive some of the 150 vehicles entered in the competition and visit the Learning Center, a mini-trade show featuring 50 manufacturing and research exhibitors. Roundtable presentations addressed Challenge Bibendum’s three key themes, and an energy conference featured Sir Stuart Bell, a British MP; Dominique Maillard, director of the French Department of Energy and Raw Materials; Claude Mandil, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA); and Jeroen Van der Veer, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell.

Though tires have never been the primary focus of Challenge Bibendum, no Michelin event would be complete without some discussion of rolling resistance and scrap tire reduction. Michelin showcased its Energy tire, a so-called “green” tire constructed with silica instead of carbon black, which, Michelin claims, lowers rolling resistance by 30% compared to a conventional tire. The tire also delivers 20% to 40% more mileage, according to the tiremaker. The latest Energy tire was launched in 2003.

A press conference held by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the IEA revealed interesting research findings about passenger tires. The organizations calculated that, if all of the cars on the roads in the world today were fitted with low-rolling resistance tires, fuel savings would amount to 6 billion liters of fuel per year in Europe and 32 billion in the rest of the world. The level of polluting emissions, such as carbon dioxide, would be reduced by 15 million tons per year in Europe, the associations also noted, and 80 million in the rest of the world.

On the second-to-last day of the event, the vehicles participated in a rally from CERAM to the foot of the Eiffel Tower to demonstrate performance in actual driving conditions. More than 2,500 car enthusiasts, environmentalists and curious onlookers gathered at the tower to check out the latest vehicle concepts and learn more about Challenge Bibendum’s mission.

Meeting of the Minds

The final day of Challenge Bibendum featured an International Forum held at the CNIT convention center west of Paris, during which legislators and experts presented and debated sustainable mobility issues.

Forum attendees had the chance to learn about sustainable mobility efforts around the world, starting with France. “The automobile sector and its affiliated services employ 1.4 million people in France,” said Francois Loos, France’s industry minister. The energy challenge, he said, “relates to the era of expensive oil prices that we are entering for a long period and even the preparation of the post-oil era, while, at the same time, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“The government’s objective is to incorporate 7% biofuels in 2010 and 10% in 2015,” he continued. “The development of new engines, flex-fuel hybrid engines and fuel-cell research are part of government policy.” France’s national energy policy calls for a 25% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions between now and 2050.

Addressing U.S. efforts, Margo Oge of the EPA said the agency’s goal is for renewable fuels to comprise 5% – 7.5 billion gallons – of the country’s total consumption by 2012.

Throughout the program, though, participants stressed that there is no magic solution. The spirit of Challenge Bibendum, and its eventual success, depends upon, as Rollier put it, “a range of various solutions that should be developed within the framework of strong synergies between researchers, industrialists, users and legislators.”

On that note, journalists and attendees wondered if Challenge Bibendum would have another chance at success next year. Would the global event continue without Edouard Michelin?

Rollier settled it once and for all. “Edouard Michelin has left us, but we are walking in his footsteps,” he said. “Challenge Bibendum will continue for many years to come in order to pay tribute to him.”

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