Twice a day, the world experiences a mass migration of people, moving in their hundreds of millions – if not billions – over distances that might span anything from a few hundred meters to a few hundred miles. We know it as the ‘commute’, and on top of being a huge logistical challenge for any country, it’s also bad for the environment.
But the commute is changing as eco-innovators find new methods to cut down on emissions and increase energy efficiency. Here are five ways the commute is turning electric and becoming less of an environmental drag.
Trains represent a reasonably eco-friendly way to commute given their ability to carry hundreds of passengers and the wide usage of electrical power throughout Europe. But diesel oil remains a significant part of the process, and so efforts continue to reduce the carbon footprint.
At the end of this year, Germany will launch the world’s first zero-emissions passenger train, the Coradia iLint. Powered by hydrogen and discharging only excess steam and condensed water, it will run up to 87 miles per hour and boast a storage capacity that covers 497 miles. For fuel, the train consumes waste by-products from the chemical industry, and then stores any extra energy in Lithium batteries. Built by French company Alstrom, Norway, Denmark and Netherlands are also about to get on board.
Another exciting development comes care of Italian company Greenrail. Rather than the train, they’re concentrating on the tracks. Sleepers are usually made from pressed concrete and there are somewhere in the region of 350-million in Europe alone. Their rigid nature means they require constant maintenance and every year about 70 million are replaced worldwide.
Greenrail has developed a sleeper that combines concrete with recycled tyres, making them far more durable. But it doesn’t stop there: they’ve also integrated a small solar panel, as well as technology that makes it possible to include a kinetic energy system, which generates electricity from the pressure of trains passing overhead.
Home to the famous bright red double-decker, it’s no surprise that London is leading the way when it comes to developing greener technology for buses. Last year, the Mayor unveiled the world’s first zero-emissions hydrogen-powered double-decker, using a hydrogen fuel cell and battery pack, providing a range of 250km. It also has a potential 75 percent cost saving over the traditional diesel-powered bus.
A number of all-electric buses have already been pressed into service in the capital – 73 in total, the largest number in Europe. Other major cities like New York, Paris, Madrid and Cape Town are following suit, looking to remove diesel buses entirely by 2025, while China continues to push ahead with its e-bus fleet, with 170,000 currently across the country.
Many cities run bicycle schemes that have a positive environmental impact, but sometimes the distances might be a bit too much for pedal power alone. Here’s where the e-bike is making a difference.
Take the Air-33 for example. It’s lightweight, foldable and features an integrated and removable lithium battery that charges in two hours and has a pedal-assist range of 35 miles. An LCD computer dashboard gives you access to the bike’s speed, battery level and distance travelled. Other foldable e-bikes include the Coyote Commute, with a battery range of 30 miles, and the Volt Metro with a 40-mile range, but there are regular town and mountain e-bikes out there too.
Cars, the erstwhile bad boys of the commute, continue to evolve and adapt to the demands of the environment. Hybrids are now commonplace on the roads, while the electric car revolution is well under way – in the past five years alone, EV sales around the world have gone from 50,000 to over 700,000 a year.
With tariffs and congestion charges making city driving less attractive, electric car sharing initiatives are also popping up. For example, French company Autolib’ uses a subscription service that lets you use any EV from hundreds of charge points across Paris – all locatable via a phone app. Similar outfits include DriveNow, operating all across Europe, Carma in San Francisco and blueSG in Singapore. Countless others are also adopting the concept, recognising that this type of travel is destined to become a mainstay of the ‘smart city’ of the future.
You might not regard these huge jet-powered beasts as commuter vehicles, but in the global age, people fly between cities and continents on a regular basis, and business travel is a huge part of aviation in general.
Given airplanes are considerable gas-guzzlers, developments in eco-technology are crucial. Some companies have been working with biofuels that can be used on existing engines, and which emit between 50-80 percent less carbon.
But there are all kinds of ways to improve aviation’s carbon footprint: special paints to reduce ice and bug residue the wings and fuselage, which means less washing, thus saving on water use. Fuel cells to power a plane’s cabin and electronic systems. New composite materials in a plane’s construction that make them lighter and consequently more fuel efficient.
There is even the prospect of airplane wings being designed in such a way as to harvest energy from natural vibrations in their structure.