It is no secret that the transport sector is one of the leading contributors to climate-change, with 15 percent of manmade carbon dioxide emissions coming from cars, airplanes, and other vehicles. Whilst transport might be partly responsible for the environmental crisis however, advances in transport technology are also paving the way for the green movement.
For example, self-driving cars – an area of research into which the UK government has announced it will invest an extra £20 million – have been exalted as the future of green transport for several reasons.
Firstly, their use of energy-optimising controls to restrict wasteful breaking and accelerating can significantly increase fuel efficiency.
Secondly, their use of on-board GPS and communication with other vehicles allows them to create optimal, energy-efficient routes.
Thirdly, self-driving cars can be used to create green car-sharing services. By using driverless cars, these services would be able to drop one group off at a destination, before driving autonomously on to another location to collect more passengers, drastically reducing congestion and carbon emissions.
Similarly, research by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US has said that if the self-driving technology was implemented into electric cars, then we could create truly environmentally friendly taxi services.
The analysis has found that emissions from an electric taxi would be between 63% and 82% lower than privately-driven hybrid vehicles, and 90% lower than a traditional petrol-powered car. Autonomous taxis, on the other hand, could facilitate a process known as ‘right-sizing’, in which the size of a taxi is tailored to the number of passengers. A single-person taxi, for instance, could be much smaller, thus making it more energy-efficient. It is clear then that the combination of electric vehicles and self-driving vehicles could prove to be invaluable for the environment.
It’s not just road vehicles that are becoming greener, however; aircraft are trying to make the change as well.
Indeed, at the end of June the aircraft Solar Impulse 2 broke the world records for both the longest and farthest flights in a solar-powered craft, indicating significant improvements in the technology. The flight, which flew over 3,500 miles, managed to stay airborne for around 80 hours, making it the world’s longest non-stop solo flight without refuelling.
Although conventional combustion and jet engine planes surpass solar-powered planes in terms of both speed and distance, solar aircraft undoubtedly has the edge in terms of longevity. Since solar energy is renewable, solar-powered aircraft theoretically have the power to remain airborne indefinitely, all the while emitting no carbon dioxide. Much more progress needs to be made before these aircraft could become commercial, but they are certainly an exciting prospect.
Whilst solar-craft are a long way from being an option for commercial flights, electric airplanes could be a feasible green alternative to traditional craft.
At the start of July, two electric planes successfully made a test flight across the English Channel, highlighting the potential future of commercial air-travel. Electric planes, like electric cars, are far more environmentally-friendly than current aircraft; and if the push for decreased carbon emissions continues, then electric craft could become mandatory.
However, whilst electric planes are most certainly greener, they are not necessarily going to result in cheaper flights – and that could be the deciding factor in whether or not air-travel goes green. For a while at least, rather than reflecting the lower fuel costs, the cost of tickets for an electric flight will be largely dependent on the cost of the technology itself. The future of electric planes, therefore, rests in the hands of the public – if they’re not willing to pay for greener flights, then this new technology could be side-lined.
It seems then that transport definitely has the potential to go green – the technology is there, or at least, it is getting there. The only question that seems to remain is this: will green transport take off on its own accord, or will it remain in the shadows until governments make it compulsory?