The topic of sustainability cannot be discussed without addressing transport. It consumes about one third of the world’s energy yet uses a lower proportion from renewable sources than any other industry, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
As the world’s population increases and more people live in cities, passenger transport is forecast to more than double by 2050. As a result, carbon emissions from the sector could increase by 60%, the International Transport Forum has forecast.
To serve growing demand for transport sustainably, society must look at alternatives to the internal combustion engine, which has been the world’s dominant transport system since its invention in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Greener transport can mitigate climate change, reduce pollution and make the energy system more sustainable.
Here are some of the technologies and trends that are on track to disrupt our transport systems.
Electric vehicles represent one of the most important trends in sustainable mobility. They’re expected to see rapid growth – from around two million today to between 150 million and 400 million by 2030, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted.
By 2040, more than half (54%) of all new car sales will be electric, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Growth in consumer demand will come from a fall in the cost of electric batteries (which will help make most electric cars as cheap as cars with internal combustion engines by the end of the next decade, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance), improvements in performance, increased demand from customers and government support for clean energy.
The future for electric cars looks promising, but challenges remain. The biggest one is infrastructure. For instance, if hundreds of millions of petrol and diesel vehicles are to be replaced with electric ones, there will need to be a huge investment in charging stations (at homes, public locations and in businesses).
Most electric cars run on powered by lithium-ion batteries, also used in laptops and mobile phones. It usually takes at least 30 minutes, but often hours, to charge an electric car. One alternative is hydrogen − fuel cells that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, heat, and water. It can recharge a car in a couple of minutes.
Hydrogen is receiving the backing of some of the world biggest automotive manufacturers including Toyota and Mercedes, which are developing cars that run on fuel-cells.
Some experts predict that hydrogen will play a major role in industry and public transport, where routes are predictable and re-fuelling stations are in close proximity.
Car-sharing and the shared economy
The digital revolution has given rise to the “shared economy”, enabling consumers to rent out everything from homes to labour. Services like SnappCar and Turo, billed as the ‘Airbnb for cars‘, allow drivers to rent out their vehicles when they’re not in use. Car sharing services have enormous potential to reduce the number of cars on our roads. In Europe for example, the 250m cars across the continent are used on average only an hour a day.
For now, peer-to-peer car sharing is still very small. It’s a big cultural step for people to share their vehicles with strangers but the success of Airbnb has demonstrated that the sharing economy can disrupt traditional ways of working. For mobility, the shared economy could help improve air quality in urban environments particularly if consumers are sharing low-carbon vehicles.
New types of transport
Perhaps the most exciting new form of transport could be the “hyperloop” – a system that can transport passengers and cargo in pods at speeds of up 700 miles per hour using low-pressure tubes and magnetic levitation. The technology has the potential to be powered by solar, wind or forms of renewable generation.
In 2016, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) agreed a deal with US start-up Hyperloop One (now Virgin Hyperloop One) to build a system between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which could reduce the 150 kilometre trip from 90 minutes to 12 minutes.
The RTA is also testing another new type of transport − a self-flying air taxi that carries two people and runs on electric batteries. The air taxi, made by German company, Volocopter, is currently undergoing test flights around the city.