We have all heard of the effects that cars have had on the environment. On average, cars emit 20 pounds of green house gas (GHG) emissions per gallon of fuel burned. We see these effects in climate change, ozone layer depletion, acid rain, poor air and water quality, respiratory diseases, cancers and other health issues. Thankfully, bicycle use and car/bike share programs seem to be on the rise, evidenced by the appearance of bike lanes in many cities and an increase in shared car programs. It’s also looking like high oil prices will be providing incentives for a resurgence of interest in electric and hybrid cars as well. However, the electricity used to power those cars must still be pulled out of the wall somewhere, so keep that in mind next time you plug in your Prius.
And what of airplanes? Well, it’s looking as though the demand for air travel will increase yearly by 5% for the next little while, so the GHG emissions from this method of transport won’t be spontaneously reducing. It’s been reported that the CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre are 2-3 times higher than emissions from cars when on long haul flights and about twice as high on domestic flights. Luckily, there are some technologies and practices that will reduce this tonnage, such as more streamlined and bird-like fuselage designs and technological developments that help ‘green’ an aircraft’s electrical grid and decrease the amount of fuel burned – sometimes by up to 70%.
Travel by rail is becoming popular again and I have to say I was surprised to learn that the train wasn’t necessarily more energy efficient than travelling by car. Or, at least it wasn’t for quite a time. See, from the 1930s up through the 1960s, diesel passenger trains were significantly more energy efficient than their road conquering counterparts. Then, in the 1970s, government policy mandated improved energy efficiency for automobiles…but not trains. However, the development of high-speed trains with improved aerodynamics, regenerative braking (which recovers energy from the train whilst braking), improved use of train length and improved interior space use have made significant strides in making trains more energy efficient. A study was conducted in 2008 stating that rail travel is now, on average, 2-5 times more energy efficient that automobile and flight travel due to the new approaches and developments to train and rail technologies. These practices can elicit energy efficiency improvements of up to 27-43%! Sounds like they’re on the right track! (Get it? Ha.)
It’s important to take note of other efforts that the transportation industry is undertaking to further energy efficiency endeavours. For instance, automobile manufacturers aren’t only focused on creating more energy and fuel efficient cars. They’re also taking steps to increase the energy efficiency of their facilities and factories, and with good reason. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that the U.S. industrial sector accounts for more than 30% of energy use in the United States. If such industrial facilities improved their energy efficiency by just 10%, there would be an estimated savings of nearly $20 billion and a reduction of GHG emissions equal to that of more than 22 million houses per year. Furthermore, suggestions for energy efficiency improvements from the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory include implementing energy management systems (oh look!) to help “…reduce non-productive energy consumption by controlling…HVAC equipment.”
Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jets, is also taking steps to reduce their environmental footprint. They have set intensive five-year targets for reductions in energy use, GHG emissions and other hazardous wastes from their major manufacturing facilities by the year 2012. They’re looking to increase their energy efficiency by 25%, reduce their GHG emissions by 25%, reduce their hazardous waste (per dollar of revenue) by 25%, and increase their recycling rate by 25%. Boeing plans on doing this by improving the fuel efficiency of their commercial airplanes by 15% and also by helping to establish a global fuel efficiency standard for new planes. Moreover, they will be looking at alternative energy solutions to reduce GHG emissions, and actively pursuing the research and development of new technologies with the environment in mind.
Not to be outdone by the planes and cars, the rail industry is also taking on projects that will help them achieve their energy efficiency goals. A new clean technology that senses the level of daylight brightness automatically adjusts the station lighting to maximise the use of natural light and significantly decrease the amount of time the light bulbs are switched on. A small station in India has found a solution to the frequent power cuts it experiences by installing solar panels to supply the station with enough power to run the lighting and the fans in the building. And speaking of HVAC savings, a large rail company has signed on with Smartcool to improve the energy efficiency of their air conditioning units which cool their facilities. After installing our ECO3TM on 3 of their roof top air conditioners, the company found they were achieving significant and profitable kWh savings of 14.5%!
So, it appears as though we travelling towards a much greener transport industry. Our world is getting progressively smaller as our ability to travel around it increases. It’s a good feeling to know that steps are being taken to ensure that our travel methods are falling in line with other efforts to achieve the green, so to speak.