One of the greatest climatic challenges that the world faces without exception is mobility. Society needs a large transport infrastructure to support day to day life and market demands. We talk about cars, buses, trains, boats, airplanes, trucks, that when performing their function, leave a mark in the environment that is difficult to ignore.
Most of the CO2 emissions are from people and consumer goods transportation. Therefore, today there are different transport alternatives to ensure an environmental improvement in the present and a future without the dangerous consequences that are predicted with the transport systems we are using right now.
Technology plays a fundamental role in generating proposals and alternatives in this matter. But its application and development focus on the need for a mindset change of every stakeholder, from organizations to each one of us, as citizens.
The good news is that cities are joining the challenge, looking for solutions and iterating with them. Thus, generating know-how that can be multiplied to different parts of the globe. The objective is to find that the people, goods and services flow is enhanced or maintained, mitigating climate change and ensuring the safety of all citizens.
This is a challenge that, as a society during this period, we must address: the transformation of mobility to sustainable mobility. For this, 3 fundamental pillars of change need to be involved: the environment, the social and economic aspects. These pillars must find a balance with solutions that do not depreciate any of these aspects. Sustainable mobility should contribute positively while feasibly integrated, empowering all actors involved in this huge challenge. It is possible to respond to the climate challenge concerns, without creating inequality and guaranteeing the viability of millions of small businesses that can be threatened if it is not done intelligently and empathically, allowing their transformation and evolution to more sustainable models.
Sustainable mobility in European cities: Copenhagen, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona.
Several proposals are developed in different parts of the world, driven from the private and public sector:
Copenhagen seeks to become the carbon-neutral city by 2025. The city has a leading role in designing alternatives involving all the population and the city’s systems to achieve their goals.
- Amsterdam focuses on future urban mobility scenarios. The climate targets are at the top of the Amsterdam City agenda, which recently stated that by 2030 all city traffic should be electric. This means that by that date all gasoline and diesel cars will be kept out of the city. With this ambitious goal, Amsterdam has taken the lead, setting an example for cities around the world.
- New York, Dubai, London, Paris, Sydney, and Barcelona. All cities share the same mobility and sustainability problems. In this video of the Smart City World Congress in Barcelona, we can see the projection of the future of cities to mitigate the challenges, focused on creating solutions.
As fossil fuel transportation alternatives, different bets for mobility solutions are driving the development of electric cars, hydrogen-powered transportation, and hybrid cars. Each of these vehicles produces zero or very few emissions, which will replace its predecessor, the combustion engine, by the electric one.
Hybrid vs. electric cars: What is the difference?
Let’s start with a difference that involves all senses, electric cars are totally silent, odourless and are characterized by providing pleasant and smooth paths. At the cost level, “fuel” expenses are considerably reduced since electricity is less expensive than gasoline or diesel.
10 years ago, it was considered impressive that an electric vehicle could reach 150 kilometres of trajectory. Today they can cover up to 300 kilometres of autonomy between charges. Another aspect that has improved is the charging time, where 30 minutes is enough to achieve up to 120 km.
Hybrid vehicles, on the other hand, have a greater range than electric cars, since they run on gasoline and two backup batteries. These two are responsible for reducing gasoline consumption by 40%. While using the electric battery, the sensorial and environmental advantages of the electric car can be enjoyed and when the combustion engine is used, the behaviour of the vehicle is that of a conventional car.
Electric cars are the most developed option and the most accessible in the market. This responds to environmental problems related to global warming and air pollution. The combustion engine, the exhaust and the fuel tank are replaced by an electric motor that functions as a rechargeable battery. The great advantage of an electric car is the sound reduction, the zero production of exhaust gases, without them, they provide a greater travel experience for the user, as well as the reliability and low maintenance offered using an electric motor.
The bet: Hydrogen vehicles development.
There is a vehicle that is 100% electric that uses an alternative form of energy: hydrogen-powered vehicles. Currently, most electric cars use lithium-ion batteries, but there are other alternatives for energy storage. Hydrogen fuel cells allow electricity to be generated from the gas produced by the decomposition of water or methane. Inside the fuel cell, this gas is converted into electricity by a chemical reaction with oxygen.
This technology is a bet of big companies, although now there are still some obstacles. Although hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, it does not exist in pure form on the planet. This means that if we want to use it as a car fuel, we must produce it from other compounds such as water, natural gas, other fossil fuels or biomass. And for this, the energy needed can have a significant environmental and economic cost depending on how we do it. If it is generated from natural gas it has a polluting effect and if it is done from water by electrolysis it requires high energy consumption but is not pollutant.
Additionally, the infrastructure costs for large-scale production and distribution, require a large investment for its adoption in the market. Hydroelectric stations must be implemented, just as gas stations for fuel engines.
Despite this, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has great advantages. The refuelling is very fast, at the same time as loading fuel on a gas station. Also, the hydrogen fuel cell energy generation capacity compared to those made of lithium is 236 times more powerful, this allows to propel large-tonnage vehicles, ships, airplanes or submarines.
The electric, hybrid, and hydrogen-powered vehicles development, continues. Especially those related to electric power have advanced tremendously. Today, the electric motor is no longer at a disadvantage compared to the combustion engine. Lithium-ion batteries are safe and allow recycling at the end of their life cycle, with increasingly efficient processes. These offer the properties of being lighter, compact and with greater capacity, allowing to improve the vehicle’s range.
New alternatives are developed every day to optimize processes and facilitate the use of these technologies that can change transport direction and propose a future without the damage we cause to the environment linked to transport in general. A benefit that each of us will surely enjoy and leave for our children.