Quantcast

Cool Ideas to Clean Up Pollution From Cars, Trucks, Ships and Planes

Climate
Pexels

By Marlene Cimons

Nearly a century ago, German engineer Anton Flettner launched a ship into the ocean. "Without sails or steam, like a ghost ship, it moved mysteriously through the water with no apparent means of propulsion," according to a 1925 article that appeared in Popular Science Monthly. The ship cruised in silence, without spewing anything into the air. Curiously, two odd-looking, giant spinning cylinders rose from her deck as "the ship plowed its way through the rough waters of the Baltic, at nearly twice its former speed," the article said.


Flettner used those cylinders — called rotor sails — to power his ship, harnessing the same source that first drove vessels through the sea hundreds of years earlier when they began sailing: the wind. At the time, his invention couldn't compete with steam, coal and, ultimately, the modern diesel engine. But today, as the world copes with climate change, the shipping industry — indeed, the entire world transportation sector — must find ways to wean itself from fossil fuels and transition to cleaner energy. Among these efforts, Flettner's old idea has gained new traction.

Flettner's rotor ship, the Buckau, in 1924.

Library of Congress

"Who would have thought that centuries later we would be taking a hard look at how to harness the power of the wind to power ships?" said Bryan Comer, a senior researcher in the marine program of the International Council on Clean Transportation. "In the beginning, all ships were zero emission, using human power — oars — or wind. Now, in an effort to reduce costs and environmental impacts, we're starting to see innovative uses of wind power, including rotor sails. It seems we have come full circle."

The global transportation sector accounts for nearly a quarter of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases discharged into the atmosphere. Still, energy moves our cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships and airplanes, everything we depend upon to deliver food and consumer goods, to commute to work, to go shopping, to get the kids to school and soccer practice, and to fly the job-weary to a long awaited vacation. People aren't going to abandon their vehicles anytime soon, and if people can't change, then the vehicles must.

Experts agree that the transportation sector must undergo fundamental changes, starting now, if we are to keep warming to 1.5 degrees C, the target set by the Paris Climate Agreement. "We need to start the technological shift in transport immediately and at a very high pace in order not to fall short of the ambitious Paris climate goals," said Johannes Pagenkopf, a scientist and vehicles systems specialist with the German Aerospace Center.

Traffic jam in New Delhi.

Lingaraj GJ

Transport today still depends heavily on fossil fuels, with only a small share based on electricity. "We need to profoundly shift our current transport systems towards a carbon-neutral future," said Pagenkopf.

Ships account for around 3 percent of CO2 emissions globally, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. Experts in the shipping industry think that wind-assisted technologies— rotor sails among them — will help vessels reach emission reduction goals set by the International Maritime Organization. The group has called for lowering carbon emissions by 70 percent by 2050 compared to 2008 levels.

Ships armed with rotor sails wouldn't be fossil fuel-free, but the technology could help curb fuel use and pollution. In addition to rotor sails, ships could also deploy innovations such as a blower to pump air bubbles under the ship and across part of the hull, reducing drag and thus the amount of power needed by the main engines.

The amount of energy used per person per mile by different forms of transport, as measured in metric tons of oil.

International Energy Agency

Beyond shipping, Pagenkopf believes that other transportation modes must be powered by electricity. To that end, he believes people should rely more on trains instead cars and airplanes, since most railways already use electricity. Someday, he hopes the same will be true of planes and ships. "Battery and fuel cell electric propulsion for short- and medium-range planes and ships will get momentum" he said.

Some short-range airplanes already use battery-derived power for short distance flights that carry only a few passengers. And, "the industry has actually taken to the idea of electric aircraft in many meaningful ways," said Phil Ansell, assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Lots of different industry groups are currently conducting internal research into electric aircraft concepts."

An airplane flying above Chicago.

Pexels

There are major obstacles to overcome, however, before batteries will routinely power planes, especially on longer flights. Current batteries are too heavy to carry planes very far; research must focus on making them lighter. Because of these drawbacks, scientists are looking at other options, including hybrid systems that pair batteries with fuel.

Xianguo Li, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering at the University of Waterloo, is working on something similar, pairing batteries with fuel cells for use in automobiles. He believes his system will last as much as ten times longer than current fuel cells and can be produced cheaply enough to eventually replace conventional gas engines. The system consists of a battery and three fuel cell units of identical size that shift among themselves, depending on the amount of power needed.

Professor Xianguo Li seen here with his fuel cell test vehicle in his lab.

University of Waterloo

"During low speed driving, the battery provides the power," Li said. "One of the three fuel cell units would be activated if the battery energy level is low or battery power is not sufficient, and the fuel cell output would be used partly for driving and partly for charging the battery. If the vehicle speeds, two of the three fuel cells would be activated, and at full load all three fuel cells would be activated." But the fuel cells likely would last longer because a vehicle needs full power only around one-third of the time, he said.

Similarly, Li's Waterloo colleague, Amir Khajepour, has developed a new valve technology that increases the efficiency of conventional internal combustion engines by more than 10 percent. He also has created a battery system that harnesses and stores heat that a vehicle creates when it brakes, but still allows refrigeration units and air conditioners to run during idling.

"Combustion engines will be the horse force of heavy transportations for many years to come," he said. "In addition, the current vehicles especially used in city buses or utility fleets have at least another decade of life span. Any technology that can reduce the fuel consumption and emissions of such vehicles will have a huge impact in making the transportation system greener."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.

Read More Show Less

gmnicholas / E+ / Getty Images

By Nicole Greenfield

Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
TeamDAF / Getty Images Plus

The climate crisis is getting costly. Some of the world's largest companies expect to take over one trillion in losses due to climate change. Insurers are increasingly jittery and the world's largest firm has warned that the cost of premiums may soon be unaffordable for most people. Historic flooding has wiped out farmers in the Midwest.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
The Eqip Sermia Glacier is seen behind a moraine left exposed by the glacier's retreat during unseasonably warm weather on Aug. 1 at Eqip Sermia, Greenland. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Andrew Yang's assertion that people move away from the coast at the last Democratic debate is the completely rational and correct choice for NASA scientists in Greenland.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
hadynyah / E+ / Getty Images

By Johnny Wood

The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.

The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.

Here are some of the challenges the river faces.

Read More Show Less

Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Jake Johnson

As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.


Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

DESIREE MARTIN / AFP / Getty Images

Wildfires raging on Gran Canaria, the second most populous of Spain's Canary Islands, have forced around 9,000 people to evacuate.

Read More Show Less