Future Design Series: Sustainable Transport and Mobility

Future Design Series: Sustainable Transport and Mobility

Can we all agree that transport is the nerve center of human activity? It literally determines the success of business activities, a city and the world in general. Think of it this way, transportation determines whether people can have access to other sustainability efforts. It enables communication, trade and other forms of exchange between peoples that in turn enables civilization. Since all this is true, it all means then that transport and mobility plays very vital parts in economic growth and globalization. However, our over-dependence on this industry, just like many others, negatively affects our world more than people may think.

The environmental impact of transport is significant since it’s a major user of energy and burns most of our world’s petroleum resources. As if that weren’t enough, it also creates air pollution and contributes to global warming through its emission of carbon dioxide. In fact, transport as a whole accounted for about 23% of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2014 and according to the ITF baseline scenario, emissions from global transportation will increase by 60% before 2050, having begun rising already.

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Clearly, the statistics call for sharp action. There is a need to put better transport systems in place and luckily, various organizations across the globe have begun to heed the call. Below are a few noteworthy approaches currently being made to curb the adverse effects of transport and mobility in our world today and in the near future:

1. Green aviation

Aviation transports some two billion passengers annually, contributes about 2% of global CO2 emissions and supports 8% of the world economic activity in terms of GDP. Green aviation is very simply, the pursuit of reductions in noise, greenhouse gas emissions and fuel usage. The concept of greening the aviation industry is thus closely linked to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to the point of achieving near carbon neutrality.

Most planes use kerosene-based fuel but there are green fuels being developed. A green fuel reduces the greenhouse gases emission problems which leads to climate problems. Popular examples of green fuel are biofuels and hydrogen fuel. On that note, British Airways and bioenergy company Solena began working together in 2016 to produce waste-to-biofuels plants in London, while SkyNRG followed suit by supplying trials of biofuel products – in this case, waste oil from catering companies to be converted into biofuels.

As far back as 2010, Airbus introduced its A320neo model reducing fuel consumption by nearly 16%; this was followed closely by Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner which reduced fuel usage by roughly 20%. And let’s not forget Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator, a highly recyclable aircraft with tremendous improvements in weight drag, and other components influencing fuel efficiency.

Airplanes are notorious for noise pollution but by pursuing quieter engines through acoustic liners, Rolls Royce has been able to reduce engine noise significantly for both the Airbus and Boeing customers. The world’s largest aerospace event, the Paris Air Show displayed electric airplanes, a sign of things to come for the industry. At the event, more than 400 fossil fuel-powered aircraft worth 15 billion dollars were sold but it was Cape Air’s order of the first commercial electric airplanes that drew the most attention.

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Meanwhile, the number of electric aircraft under development keeps growing. Consultancy Roland Berger expects the number to jump from 170 to 200 by year’s end. Sweden and Norway say they plan to make all short flights electric by 2040. Scotland, the Netherlands, California and the UK have all begun putting financial incentives in place to reduce aviation emissions already.

2. The flying taxis

If you have ever seen ‘Back to the Future’ or any sci-fi future movie, then you will be familiar with the idea of a flying taxi. The difference though is that these are not just in the movies anymore, they are here now. The awesome thing about them is that they are being designed with sustainability in view; they are electric and won’t give off any planet-warming greenhouse gases during flight. 

UK’s Vertical Aerospace completed a successful test drive for its unmanned flying taxi prototype back in June 2018 and Volocopter is currently working to have its autonomous air taxis in the sky within five years. Kitty Hawk Air Taxi Company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page has already developed Cora, which is intended for use as part of a transportation service instead of being sold to individuals and Uber Air has decided to launch its air taxi in LA, Dallas and a third as-yet-undecided international city by 2023, with the first aircraft to be tested as early as next year. 

In the meantime, other large aviation companies like Airbus and Boeing as well as a variety of other automotive companies have begun dedicated work on their prototypes as well. Flying air taxis are incredible innovations. They are designed to both hover like helicopters and glide easily like airplanes and are incredibly energy-friendly– provided of course that they are used wisely.

3. The hyperloops & green trains

Hyperloops are new forms of ground transport through which passengers travel at over 700 miles per hour, in floating pods as they race inside giant low-pressure tubes, either above or below ground. A hyperloop is different from a conventional train as the pods that carry passengers travel through tubes or tunnels from which most of the air has been removed to reduce friction– hence increasing the speed of the pods.

In addition, rather than using wheels, the pods are actually designed to float on air skis. Green trains on the other hand, are very simply trains designed to run on non-electrified train lines with low levels of noise. They are often designed to combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electrical power and if the system produces more energy than the train needs at a time; the excess can be stored in batteries for future use. Also, their only emissions are water and steam. Green Rail is one notable Italian sustainable railway company and following a successful proof-of-concept, UK’s first hydrogen train –HydroFLEX– will soon be tested on the mainline railway.

Now hyperloop technology is still in development, but notable private companies are already working on bring this tech to fruition. For instance, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has already developed its passenger app as its first commercial lines are expected to be opened to the public in 2022. The company’s main rival, Virgin Hyperloop One already held a public test run of its hyperloop system two years ago and aims to provide a fully operational hyperloop system in 2021. 

4. Green city transport systems

As we pointed out in this earlier edition of #Futuredesign, cities are central to achieving a sustainable future. To this end, lots of cities are “greening” up their transport systems. In London for instance, even though the city already has electric buses running on certain routes, the government has introduced a programme to convert the city’s double decker buses to hydrogen powered by next year. 

Transport for London has already ordered 20 of these buses and in addition to emitting only water as exhaust, the buses will run on green hydrogen. The Metrobus system in Washington DC has more than 485 buses that run on compressed or hybrid while the Clean Air Express in Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, eliminates the use of approximately one million gallons of fuel each year. In Ithaca, Central New York, the Ithaca Carshare was created as far back as 2008 to reduce the pollution caused by automobiles and the list goes on.

As you may have realised, this is not an exhaustive list of the future designs in the transport and mobility industry. It is collated to remind you that around the world there are companies, governments and individuals mobilising to reduce impact of human activity on the planet.

So that’s it for this week’s edition of our future design series, don’t forget to share this post to spread climate optimism and hope. And make sure to sign up for our weekly newsletter so you don’t miss any of our updates (and you’ll receive our free sustainable lifestyle guide when you do!).

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Feature image credit of Lithium all-electric passenger jet via TechGenyz.

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