Changing with the times – transportation

My sense is that universal electric-motor-vehicle-operation acceptance by every driver driving American roadways, based on the present rate of EV adoption, will happen. It’s only a matter of time.

What I am less confident of, on the other hand, are two things. First is regarding the technology type – battery- or fuel-cell- electrification and second is the time frame under which the full changeover will occur. Incidentally, the amount of transportation carbon dioxide pollution from roadway-based modes across the globe is approximately 73 percent from transportation.

That covers only one aspect. Remember, besides the motor vehicle domain there are the realms of trains, boats and airplanes. How will these be impacted or will they even be affected at all?

With regard to the Conference of the Parties (COP) gatherings each year (COP-26 was postponed one year due to the pandemic) to discuss the latest climate-change and global-warming doings, what I have observed thus far in relation to these, there have been agreements, yes, but none which are binding.

Each participating country, meanwhile, has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by declared percentage amounts in specified periods of time. And that means GHG emissions-reduction targets for each participating nation will vary nation to nation. What plans each adopts is dependent upon the infrastructure utilized. (Disclosure: GHG-emissions-reduction targets regarding railways will not apply to those countries that do not operate them).

And, with that, discussion will start with trains, followed by that on ships and then with that on airplanes.

On track

Today’s trains by and large operate on the platforms of internal combustion or electricity.

For the one employing electricity derived from fossil fuels, this could be a candidate for energy supplies generated from renewable sources – i.e. solar, wind, tide and geothermal, predominantly. Transitioning from one to the other should be relatively straightforward. The difficulty in doing so, however, will come from the process of converting the internal-combustion-based supply to that of a renewable one.

As for trains operating on internal-combustion power, electrically powered replacements could be what’s called for. These could be battery-electric- or electrical-distribution-system-based. Furthermore, for those trains operating under wire or energized by electrified third-rail new locomotive or railway rolling stock (in the case of passenger equipment in some instances) will need to be secured. An upside of converting an internal-combustion-powered railway network is that diesel-propelled locomotives and track that supports that type of operation can still be utilized while the changeover work is underway. Trains contribute two percent of global transport CO2.

High-seas hybridization?

This is where hybridization – fossil fuel and electric – can make all the difference. Greta Thunberg, in traveling around the world very recently spreading her message of promoting renewables while personally doing her part to lower transportation’s impact on the air and the environment, relied extensively on boat and train. The boat on which she rode was a combination sail-/electric-powered model. Whenever there was sufficient wind, up went the sails. At all other times, presumably, electric power was called upon.

This could have implications for even the biggest of ocean-going vessels. Rather than operating exclusively on fossil fuels to power ship engines, a hybrid arrangement that allows for partial internal-combustion-based- and renewable-fuel-based power may be the most practical solution. Water-borne craft account for 11 percent of worldwide transportation-sector carbon dioxide emissions.

Flying eco-friendlier skies

While CO2 emissions from aviation register 11 percent across the globe from transportation, cleaning up aviation emissions is apparently high on air- or climate-cleanup priority lists.

Work, for all intents and purposes, on making aviation a low- or zero-emissions mode is ongoing. While most of the experimental focus is on battery electric development, fuel-cells and hybridization is getting much attention. The two biggest areas of concern right now appear to be on flying distances and battery fires, which is why hybridization of flight might be the best of the available options going.

– Alan Kandel

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