In 2016, the transport sector contributed 27% of total EU-28 greenhouse gas emissions. Transport emissions fell from 2008 to 2013, but have since climbed and are close to the 2007 peak. The Committee on Climate Change 2019 progress report highlighted surface transport sector as a major contributor to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, a key area in need of intensified policy focus.
A major area of progress has been in the development and promotion of electric vehicles. All major motor manufacturers have EVs on sale or in production – Reuters found that car makers plan to spend at least $300 billion on EVs. Deloitte projects an Electric Vehicle ‘tipping point’ when price parity with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles – without a subsidy – is reached in 2024, or in 2021 if the current subsidy is maintained. An additional 21 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be on the road globally over the next decade, according to the Deloitte analysis.
China is the world’s largest EV market, accounting for more than half the world’s purchases of electric cars. Most are built by BYD (the world no. 1 producer of plug-in vehicles, 10% owned by Warren Buffet) and aimed at the middle market.
However, some argue that EVs alone are not the solution to urban mobility, and what is needed is a combination of EVs and public transport. The Science and Technology Select Committee said: “In the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation.”
On the railway, Network Rail is piloting a scheme that powers trains using power from its own solar farms. The falling cost of solar power technologies means these subsidy-free solar farms could supply electricity at a lower cost than the electricity supplied via the grid. A quarter of the UK’s trains run solely off diesel, but the government wants them all gone by 2040. By 2025, Indian Railways expects to meet a third of its electricity demand from renewable energy sources by building 1.1GW from rooftop projects and 3.9GW worth of large-scale trackside solar farms.
Regional routes which carry relatively few passengers are unlikely to be electrified soon. For such routes hydrogen trains could be the answer. ‘Hydroflex’ is a test train where the technology is being developed and will begin testing on the UK mainline in March.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) estimates that carbon dioxide emissions from shipping were equal to 2.2% of the global human-made emissions in 2012 and 15% of global NOx emissions and expects them to rise 50 to 250 percent by 2050 if no action is taken. The IMO strategy aims to reduce the total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008. A particular concern is the use of bunker fuel, a sulphur-rich fuel which contains more than 3,500 times as much sulphur as diesel fuel, and which has been estimated to cause premature death and childhood asthma in portside communities. Moves to low-sulphur fuels are set to cut in from January 2020. Liquified natural gas may be a low-emission solution.
Several small solar powered boats and ferries exist, but to date large-scale solar ships have not taken sail commercially. A partnership between Eco Marine Power (EMP) and the Japanese ship owner Hisafuku Kisen K.K. of Onomichi is testing an integrated rigid sail and solar power system for ships. The rigid sails of solar panels are mounted on the covers of large bulk carrier ships and also include wind turbines.
The aviation sector is perhaps the most challenging. Carbon dioxide emitted by airlines increased by 32% from 2013 to 2018, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. Although more fuel-efficient planes mean that emissions per passenger kilometre have been reduced by more than 50% since 1990, total emissions have grown as passenger numbers have grown.
Unlike EVs, electric planes are much more of a challenge because of the the power/weight ratio: battery technology simply has not yet advanced enough to make air transport use feasible. However, manufacturers – not just companies like Boeing and Airbus, but a host of tech firms, particularly for urban air mobility – are looking to build electric aircraft that could be clean and silent enough to make shorter air hops possible without large airports. The e-Fan X, a collaboration between Cranfield with Airbus, Siemens and Rolls-Royce, will convert a small passenger jet to demonstrate the potential for wider commercial use – this is due for trials in 2021.
A UBS report suggested that there is a market opportunity of some US$178bn, with over 16,000 hybrid electric planes over 2028-40 (chiefly general aviation, light business jets and regional aircraft). Not only do these reduce emissions, they offer c20% lower operating cost savings per trip relative to the 50-70-seaters in service.
Sustainable fuels were a major hope for aviation, but with concerns over biofuels, the focus has shifted to the potential of domestic and industrial waste. A Virgin service claiming to be the first to be partly powered by recycled waste crossed the Atlantic last October
Solar power is another option being explored. In July 2016, Solar Impulse 2 completed a 16-month round-the-world trip. Boeing’s Aurora Flight Services have developed a high-altitude solar-powered autonomous aircraft called Odysseus. This autonomous plane is an ultra-long endurance high-altitude platform and could be used to provide internet access or 5G in remote areas, and for climate research.
Finally, hydrogen-powered planes could prove the most suitable. A Dutch company, AeroDelft, is developing Project Phoenix, a liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft (more specifically, a motor glider), and with a range of 2000km. Intelligent Energy’s Project Rachel is a hydrogen fuel-cell powered octacopter, with a 6-liter tank of hydrogen gas, which can stay aloft for 70 minutes of continuous flight, while carrying a 5-kg (11-lb) weight. A similar UAV around the same weight running lithium batteries could be expected to fly for only around 12 minutes.
Airships could be a viable option for cargo transportation – which would also serve to relieve some of the maritime fuel burden. Since they would fly above the cloud base, they could also take advantage of reliable solar power.
Although battery technology has improved tremendously, a more attractive option may be hydrogen. Electrolysing water, including sea water, to create hydrogen and oxygen is a very effective way to store energy. Hydrogen and oxygen can be fairly easily be stored and transported, and so should provide a viable alternative for cars, other road vehicles, ships and possibly aeroplanes.
Hydrogen is the preferred fuel for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 6,000-unit Olympic village will run on hydrogen fuel and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has reserved $350m in a special fund to subsidise H2 fuel cell cars and fuelling stations. Toyota plans to roll out 100 hydrogen fuel cell buses to shuttle visitors between venues. Even the Olympic torch will be powered by hydrogen.
A significant contribution to minimising transport use of fuels would, of course, be to minimise transport. Fuel saving strategies such as car sharing and more efficient public transport, non-fuel options such as cycling and walking, and the very design of cities themselves to minimise commuting distances, all have their part to play. Many initiatives across the world, ranging from small scale to large, are currently in development.
Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal and Jonathan Blanchard Smith, SAMI Fellow and Director
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.
SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.
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