Transportation News

Florida’s Untapped Solar Power

(3BL Media/Just Means) I've spent the summer living in historic St. Augustine, Florida. The surf is great, the people are friendly and the sun shines brightly every single day. The sun is powerful here, powerful enough it seems to produce enough solar energy for most of the nation.

"Give Wishes Wings" Campaign Takes Off

(3BL Media/Just Means) - Fulfilling a dream can be a powerful medicine for the critically ill, but dreams can cost a lot of money. In order to help grant the wishes of critically ill children, Make-A-Wish has launched Give Wishes Wings, a month-long campaign to attract donations of airline miles.

Freightliner’s Supertruck Doubles Tractor-Trailer Fuel Economy

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Back in December, I wrote about the government’s efforts to improve the fuel economy of the thousands of tractor-trailer trucks that crowd our highways accounting for millions of gallons of diesel fuel and tons of carbon emissions. One prong of this effort was a five-year $115 million DOE project that challenged truck makers to see if they could achieve a 50% reduction in fuel consumption.

Now, Freightliner has announced their success, as they unveiled their Supertruck.

The 65,000 pound semi, which is powered by an 11-liter hybrid diesel engine, and shrouded with a bevy of aerodynamic features, comfortably surpassed the target by 15%, with a demonstrated fuel economy of 12.2 mpg, more than twice the average of trucks on the road today. The test drive was performed between Dallas and San Antonio Texas.

The list of features that combined to achieve this result is truly impressive.

The company took a clean slate approach to the project, evaluating every aspect of the vehicle, utilizing an incredible 8 million hours of computation in the process. Freightliner, which is a subsidiary of the Daimler organization, leveraged expertise from numerous partners around the world.

Aerodynamics played a huge role in the transformation. For starters, a lot of wind drag is produced by the air entering the engine compartment to cool the radiator. Freightliner came up with an innovative grille design that opens when engine cooling is needed and closes when it is not. Surprisingly, over two-thirds of the benefit comes from the trailer. A nose cone, side skirts and a boat tail all contribute to improved aerodynamics. A cab extender also closes off the gap between the trailer and the cab, an area of high turbulence in conventional semis.

Ford Reinforces Sustainability Commitment with REPREVE for 2015 F-150

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – According to the EPA, plastics constitute almost 13 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, a dramatic jump from one percent in 1960. In 2012, the total plastic waste generated in the U.S. was 32 million tons, out of which only nine percent was recycled. The automobile industry has a significant opportunity to use recycled plastics and help keep them out of landfills to preserve the environment.

Women Primed To Lead In New Era Of Auto Innovation at GM

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Women are geared up to lead in this new era. Girls now match boys in mathematical achievement: in the U.S. alone, 140 women are enrolled in higher education for every 100 men. Women now earn more than 50 percent of all bachelor's and master's degrees, and nearly 50 percent of all doctorates.

AeroMobil Unveils First Flying Car

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - The concept of a flying car has always seemed like an intangible hallmark of technological progress.

Michelin and FIA Award $100,000 Grant to Promote Teen Tire Safety

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – According to the CDC, automobile accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths in the U.S., with over 5,000 deaths each year. Teen drivers in the age group of 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash. Twelve percent of the vehicle accidents involve inexperienced drivers and tire-related issues such as insufficient tire tread or improperly inflated tires.

Fuel Economy for New Trucks can Increase 40%: “Engines for Change” Report

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Trucks move $10 trillion worth of freight every year in the U.S., consuming more than 21 billion gallons of fuel, which is nearly 70 gallons for every U.S. resident. However, unlike passenger cars and other light-duty vehicles, the fuel economy of trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles has been largely unregulated for decades.

Utilities Move Into EV Charging Game

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Building out an electric vehicle infrastructure is a bit like building an arch. You need both sides, the vehicles and the charging stations, to be there at the same time, to support each other, to keep the whole thing from falling down. It’s been a little slow taking off. Perhaps partly because it’s not clear who is taking the lead.

High Speed Chargers Bring EV’s One Step Closer to Mainstream

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - In the year 1906, Ray Stannard Baker wrote the following passage about automobiles in the book The Boy’s Book of Inventions: Stories of the Wonders of Modern Science.

“The electric vehicle which has had its most successful development in this country has its well-defined advantages and disadvantages. It is simpler in construction and more easily managed than any other vehicle: one manufacturer calls it ‘fool proof.’ It is wholly without odor or vibrations and practically noiseless. It will make any permissible rate of speed and climb any ordinary hill. On the other hand, it is immensely heavy, owing to the use of storage batteries; it can run only a limited distance without recharging…”

He goes on to say, “Indeed, all the manufacturers of electric vehicles speak with the confidence of the day when the whole of the United States will be as thoroughly sprinkled with electric charging stations as it is today with bicycle road-houses.”

A hundred years ago we were at a crossroads similar to the one we find ourselves at today, with electric vehicles vying against gasoline-powered cars. Back then, the choice was made, influenced by a good deal of lobbying and maneuvering by the oil industry. The fact that gasoline powered cars were also cheaper and didn’t have the range issues of electrics also helped to tip the scales.

So, the question is, how much have things changed? Electric cars are still more expensive and still confront the range limitation challenge that seems to be inherent in trying to store adequate energy in electrical rather than chemical form.

What has changed is the realization that widespread usage of fossil fuels has put our planet and everything living on it at risk of a destabilized climate that threatens every aspect of our life-support system.

With so much of our day to day life built around a gas powered car that can be quickly and (of late) inexpensively filled up at any of the thousands of gas stations that cover the landscape, the challenge of switching over to a completely different energy is huge.

Yes, EV prices are coming down (see Chevy Bolt) and charging stations are popping up everywhere. According to DOE, there are currently 8,983 charging stations and 22,387 charging outlets in the US. Whether that’s as many as there were bicycle roadhouses back 1906 is not clear, but unless people are convinced that it’s enough to assuage their “range anxiety,” they will hesitate to buy an EV. Roughly 120,000 electric vehicles were sold in the US last year, bringing the total up to around 280,000.

There are a couple of other dimensions to this question. One is that, unlike gasoline, people do have access to electricity at home, which is where much of the vehicle charging, at least for local trips will take place. That’s why there needn’t necessarily be as many charging stations as there are gas stations. The other dimension is the fact that not all charging stations are created equal.  What varies is the amount of time required for a charge, though what is true in all cases is the fact that it will take longer to charge your car with electrons than it did to fill it with gasoline.

Most people will come to recognize that it will be worth the wait in order to maintain a livable climate, but that doesn’t mean it will be an easy adjustment.

Is there another way to do this? In a word, yes. Some areas, like Denmark, for example, are experimenting with the idea of a charged battery as a service. This is how that works. Instead of owning the battery as part of your car, the battery is a shared resource. When your charge is getting low, you pull into a station, where they lift out your battery and replace it with a fully charged one. This doesn’t take any longer than filling up a gas tanks, but it’s a different ownership model that is more in line with the sharing economy. Not all EVs are configured for this but several Nissan models are designed to work with a robotic battery switching station designed by Shai Agassi of Better Place. That same approach, by the way, was used by New York taxi companies in the early 20th century when electric cabs made a brief appearance. The other option would be to go to hydrogen fuel cell, which is being vigorously pursued by Toyota.

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