Eco Transport is the way of the future and it will only be a matter of time before all people and goods move around the planet in a sustainable fashion. While the basic idea of what constitutes eco transport is constantly evolving, there are a number of sustainable transportation modes that are clearly more efficient, from an energy use and life-cycle environmental impact perspective, than transportation modes that are currently widespread. In this article we review common eco transport modes and discuss their advantages over their traditional counterparts.
Roads constitute the most diverse and widely used land transportation network in the world, thus making them an ideal candidate for eco transport options. In fact, according to the CIA Factbook, the estimated total length of the global road network is about 33.5 million kilometers. Therefore, ensuring that there are sustainable transportation options is essential.
The MIT Media Lab Smart Cities Group is definitely the place to look for eco transport solutions development. Here is a quick overview of the various projects under their Mobility Program that are promising innovations in the sustainable transportation sector:
The RoboScooter comes in both folding and non-folding versions and features in-wheel electric motors, lithium-ion batteries, and a cast-aluminum frame. They are designed to serve as a replacement to a 50cc conventional gas-powered scooter. The RoboScooter is made up of far fewer parts than a traditional eco scooter and has batteries that can easily be changed and charged. Compared to the traditional scooter, the RoboScooter defines part of an overarching eco transport network.
Road trains are an interesting method of eco transport. Widely used in Australia and Argentina, these semi trucks utilize one semi-truck engine unit to carry more trailers than typically seen in both the US and EU.
A considerable amount of efficiency is gained by these trucks, but they are very difficult to stop quickly and can pose a safety concern.
The Wright brothers were on to something when they started inventing flying machines and since this innovation air travel has changed the way we all view the world considerably. Since we can't imagine a world without planes we've decided to focus on eco transport modes jets and baloons.Â
When it comes to eco transport in the air, then Boeing is definitely taking the lead with the development of the 787 Dreamliner.
Made from more than 50% composite materials and engines designed by General Electric (GEnx Next Generation Engines) and Royals Royce, the Dreamliner consumes 20% less fuel than comparable planes now being used. While the development of this plane does not indicate that the final stage in air eco transport has been reached, it's definitely heading in the right direction for sustainable transportation.Â
A more far fetched idea for eco transport in the air is the concept that was used by the Japanese when they released more than 9,000 balloon bombs (http://www.japaneseballoonbombs.com/) towards the US during World War II.
Using balloons to transport goods in the air stream is a valid idea if you take away the bombs. We know that pollution from China impact Californians, so there must be a consistent flow.
While this might not be the most viable sustainable transportation option, or the easisest to organize, it does raise one clear question for society: How can natural systems be leveraged to transport goods?
Trains are by far one of the most efficient ways to move goods and people and that is why they most easily fit into the category of eco transport. In fact, according to Network Rail, a UK-based rail infrastructure company, a tonne (1000 kg) of goods can travel 246 miles by rails on the same amount of fuel it would take to move the goods less than 90 miles by semi-truck.
One of the main advantages that trains have is that they are on a fixed track that doesn't allow for lateral drift and that regenerative braking can be used to re-harvest some of their kinetic energy; hence eco transport. In fact, the Shinkansen, or Japanese bullet trains, return this energy directly to the overhead electricity cables called the catenary. This is different from traditional diesel locomotives, whereby the heat generated through braking is simply dissipated into the ambient air.
One of the most promising areas of eco transport is on the ocean. One of the most unique ideas to emerge of late are from the numerous companies offering sail retrofits for large ocean liners. One of them, Skysails, claims to be able to reduce ocean liner costs in excess of 30% by adding the sail technology to existing ships conducting trans-oceanic voyages loaded with cargo.