Future Transportation

The transport sector consumes a large portion of fossil fuels. In a highly mobile country like the United States, transportation accounts for 28% of total energy used, the bulk of which comes from gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.

The steady improvements in vehicle designs regarding aerodynamics, weight and engine efficiency, plus the introduction of biofuels, have cut down a lot of fuel consumption. However, the savings are offset by the increases in the total number of transport vehicles produced around he world.

To reduce carbon emissions, electrification is the next step. For decades already, electric trams, subways and trains have been transporting people. The bullet train testifies to the superiority of the electric motor over the internal combustion engine in terms of power, speed and noise.

Electrification of the private passenger car began in 1997 when the Prius first went on sale in Japan. It has an electric motor running in synch with the gasoline engine. Today, hybrid cars worldwide number well over one million and represent various different manufacturers. In 2010, Nissan commercialized the all-electric Leaf, followed later by Tesla producing the luxury electric models. Looking at the compact drive-train of the electric car, one is impressed by the absence of exhaust and cooling systems, and fewer moving parts that require less maintenance.

The only weakness about the electric car is the low-capacity battery that gives a range of less than 100 miles (The Tesla doubles that with a much higher price). This means we need a breakthrough in battery technology. Until that is achieved, the “range anxiety” of consumers will persist.

What does the future hold? The market for electric cars will explode depending on how fast the following are realized:

* Electric-car batteries will become lighter, less expensive, fast charging, and provide a longer driving range.
* The infrastructure of charging stations will expand just like gasoline retail did before.
* The electric car will integrate with the home or workplace. How? the car is charged at home or at work through solar or wind installations on site, which are competitive with fossil fuels now price wise. If not used for driving, the car battery when fully charged can supply the household with electricity.
* The commercialization of “solar tape” or “solar paint” will be used on curved surfaces on buildings, vehicles and ships. This will maximize the generation of solar electricity.
* The commercialization of small vertical-axis wind turbines to be installed on buildings, vehicles and ships will maximize the generation of wind electricity. At present, the horizontal-axis turbines limit wind generation to wind farms due to their large size.
* The market advantage of electrification in the future is independent generation of power spread out among millions of households and buildings. This is enabled by the maturing solar and wind industries. The importance of electric utility companies will decline. Why do you need a supplier if you can generate your own electricity through sunlight and wind that are free?

All the things I’ve described above will change dramatically if wireless recharging becomes reality. At present, wireless recharge can be done on cell phones and other small gadgets. In due course, new technologies will enable wireless recharge of big batteries in less time. Imagine if this works, all transport vehicles and ships will be recharged while moving. This will include electric airplanes too because there won’t be any limit to travel distance.

This entry was posted in 21st Century, Environment, Game Changer, Inspiration, Science/Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

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