Tag Archives: transportation

Electric trucks can totally compete with diesel trucks — they just need fast chargers

Electric heavy trucks will soon be economically ready to compete with diesel trucks as battery technology continues improving, according to a new study. This could help address the growing carbon emissions from the transportation sector, which currently accounts for 14% of the global annual emissions.

Image credit: Flickr / Paul Evans

Some researchers have long argued that electric trucks wouldn’t be able to match the costs of diesel ones because of the extra batteries needed for freight. More weight is less efficiency so electric trucks just can’t be better, some claimed. But this isn’t necessarily the case, according to a study by the Sweden-based think tank the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). A change, as they say, is a-coming.

“A tipping point is in sight for electric trucks,” Björn Nykvist, lead author and a senior researcher at SEI, said in a statement. “Battery technology is very close to a threshold that makes electric trucks feasible and economically competitive. All that is missing is one companion component: fast charging.”

Out of all the elements analyzed in the study, the availability of charging was seen as the most important to cover.

The researchers created a model where an electric truck operated for 4.5 hours and then charged for 40 minutes on a high-powered device. They found that the economics of the electric trucks per ton-kilometer improves with greater weight, driven by higher load capacity and increased energy savings as a function of weight.

The only problem is that the type of commercial fast chargers needed for the trucks don’t exist yet. It’s not as big a problem as it seems since the technology is just around the corner, but deploying them strategically will be quite the infrastructure challenge.

“If this infrastructure is put in place, it invalidates the old argument that electric trucks can’t match the range of diesel trucks. This makes electric trucks much more realistic,” Nykvist said in a statement. “A very heavy truck uses more diesel per kilometre than a lighter one, but that’s also a big savings potential if you can switch to electricity.”

Over the year, the availability of electric trucks in the US and Canada is expected to increase from over 70 models from two dozen manufacturers to at least 85 models from over 30 companies. This includes the Tesla semi, with pre-orders from Walmart, DHL, UP and PepsiCo, as well as electric vehicles from Arrival, Rivian and Nikola.

As manufacturers scale production, prices of vehicles are expected to come down. That’s also true for battery prices, which have declined 89% in the last decade and are expected to continue to fall. BloombergNEF’s annual Battery Price Survey found lithium-ion battery pack prices fell 13% in 2020 and will continue to do so.

This would help tackle the emissions of the transportation sector, which are on the rise. In the US alone, after a decline from their peak in 2005, transport emissions plateaued and have now risen every year since 2012. In 2016, the transport sector surpassed the electric power industry as the single greatest US emitter.

The study was published in the journal Joule.

California goes electric on school buses

The state of California is seen by many as the model to follow when it comes to climate action and clean energy. Now, it’s taken this a step even further by announcing it will replace more than 200 diesel school buses with new, all-electric school buses.

Credit: Torbakhopper (Flickr)


The California Energy Commission has awarded nearly $70 million to state schools to replace their buses, which will eliminate nearly 57,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides and nearly 550 pounds of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions annually.

“School buses are by far the safest way for kids to get to school. But diesel-powered buses are not safe for kids’ developing lungs, which are particularly vulnerable to harmful air pollution,” says Patty Monahan, energy commissioner.

“Making the transition to electric school buses that don’t emit pollution provides children and their communities with cleaner air and numerous public health benefits,” she added.

Owing to a recent law, the state will have a zero-carbon electricity matrix by 2045 and Governor Brown issued an executive order to totally decarbonize economy by the same date. It’s a huge challenge considering that between 2006 and 2016 the economy grew 16%, the population expanded 9% and emissions were only reduced by 11%, according to a recent report.

California still has to face big challenges and one of the biggest is in the transportation sector, which accounts for 41% of the state’s emissions. According to official statistics, there are 32 million vehicles in operation for a population of 40 million, of which only 400,000 are electric.

Emissions from transportation have increased in the past four years, due to residents traveling further as a result of increasing property cost in the major cities. In addition, the number of public transport users has decreased in four out of five of the state’s biggest metropolitan areas.

Encouraging the use of electric vehicles instead of diesel-based ones could help point the state in a better direction. With that goal in mind, a California lawmaker, Phil Ting, recently introduced a bill that would increase state-funded electric car rebates up to as much as US$7,500, rising from today’s top rebate of US$2,500.

E-cars don’t emit climate-damaging greenhouse gases or health-harming nitrogen oxide and are quiet and easy to operate, leading governments to encourage the transition to them. But while they may seem like it, they are not the perfect solution to our environmental challenges.

If they are running on electricity produced by burning dirty fossil fuels, climate benefits are limited. Because of the complex batteries they use, it currently takes more energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one. And, disposing of those batteries creates an environmental hazard.

Under present conditions, the overall carbon footprint of a battery-powered car “is similar to that of a conventional car with a combustion engine, regardless of its size.” That’s the conclusion of a 2011 study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) in Heidelberg.

According to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, it takes more than twice the amount of energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one, largely due to the production of the battery. However, in the long run, that can be easily compensated through clean energy, which makes up for the production costs and makes electric buses extremely attractive.


The challenges of waste management in the shipping and transportation industry


Credit: Pixabay.

Today, individuals and businesses can send and receive shipments from almost anywhere. With enough time and resources, you can find the right channels to get things where you need them to go.

The shipping and transportation sector is a thriving industry that helps power the global economy. It also generates a large amount of waste, and dealing with that waste is a major concern for shipping companies, government agencies and environmental organizations.

Waste Management in Transport and Shipping

The logistics industry creates waste through transport materials, warehouse activities, vehicle maintenance, packaging and office waste. Some of this waste is hazardous. Waste produced while a ship is in transit must be stored on board until the next time the ship comes to port.

Shipping waste management today is highly regulated by governments around the world. In the United States, for example, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) are the main laws regulating this sector.

For many years, state laws for managing shipping waste closely resembled federal laws. However, some of these federal laws, such as CERCLA, are older. Since the laws went into effect, states have changed their regulations, leading to a mismatch in expectations. Differences in laws among various countries can also create challenges. Shipping companies have to pay close attention to make sure they follow all existing regulations.

Fraud and Mismanagement

Sometimes though, companies break these rules — both incidentally and intentionally.

For instance, a company that imports computer cable assemblies recently settled violated claims to the tune of $1.2 million that it underpaid customs fees on goods imported from China and broke federal customs laws. This is certainly not the only instance like this.

Some of this management stems from the oil and gas industry, a sector that’s closely linked to the transportation industry. The state of Massachusetts, for instance, recently recovered $7.9 million through an investigation into claims that Shell Oil misused a fund meant for the cleanup of contaminated gas stations.

Oil spills, and incidents involving other hazardous materials, are another common issue within the shipping industry. According to U.S. law, the organization responsible for an oil spill must pay for its cleanup, although the Coast Guard works on the spill first and is repaid by the company later. The cost of oil spills is nearly immeasurable in terms of environmental damage, and climbs easily into the tens of millions of dollars in cleanup charges and legal fees. Purposeful dumping of hazardous materials is another common issue regulators continue to try to crack down on.

Environmental Impact

Spilled oil is poisonous to marine life. It can smother small fish and other creatures and coat the feathers and fur of birds and sea mammals such as otters, inhibiting their ability to maintain their body temperature. Spilled or dumped hazardous materials can also destroy marine habitats and persist for long periods of time in the water.

Shipping things long distances also requires a large amount of fuel, increasing the amount of greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere. Emissions are an especially big issue when it comes to ocean transport, as shipping fuels contain much higher amounts of sulfur than the fuel used in cars. One environmental expert estimated the world’s 16 largest ships emitted more sulfur than all the cars in the world combined.

The European Union estimates maritime shipping accounts for 2.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and that emissions will increase by as much as 250 percent by 2050. When factoring in ground and air shipping, that number soars even higher.

Revising Waste Management Norms

As environmental concerns become even more central, governments around the world are attempting to double down on reducing emissions and waste from shipping. U.S. states are finding shipping waste between states is not cost-effective, and are instead focusing their efforts on reducing the amount of waste they create.

The EU has called for a global approach to curbing shipping-related emissions led by the International Maritime Organization. To meet the goal laid out in the Paris climate accord, many nations are looking to shipping as a way to reduce emissions.

In addition to a push from government and environmental concerns, some shipping companies are also seeking to reduce waste as a cost-saving measure. They’re reusing more materials to avoid purchasing new ones, and cutting waste-management costs by reducing the amount of waste they produce.

The shipping and transportation industry is an important part of our global economy, but it also has a significant effect on the environment and presents other challenges as well. Now, governments, shipping companies and individuals must work to balance the need to transport goods with waste management needs and environmental protection.

Sharing taxi rides could significantly reduce cost and emissions. Study suggests it can work in virtually any big city

By using ride-sharing algorithms, scientists have found there’s an immense untapped potential for reducing cost and emissions. Their findings suggest there’s a universal mathematical framework that can be applied to almost any city to match taxi rides. Two or three people could use the same cab instead each traveling solo with minimal delays to their destination, the researchers found.

credit: Pixabay

Almost every sizable city in the world is facing problems due to urban transportation. For one, there’s traffic which is the bane of any commuter, and then there’s the issue of air pollution. Municipalities have always found it challenging to address these problems in their urban planning partly because it’s genuinely difficult to convince people not to use their own cars. But almost everyone uses taxis or, as of more recently, ride-sharing apps  — the problem is most of the time the rides are taken solo.

Established ride-sharing companies such as Uber or Lyft already offer options to customers to share their journey but these are heavily outnumbered throughout the world by traditional taxis. Researchers led by Carlo Ratti, an architect and engineer at MIT, wanted to see what kind of impact ride sharing among taxis could have. They chose to work with GPS data sourced from taxis working in San Francisco, Vienna, Singapore, and Manhattan. All four urban areas have different layouts which proved useful in teasing out universal patterns.

The researchers designed an abstract network of trips which were connected if these could be shareable (no delay to either party of more than 5 minutes). The researchers then forecasted what would happen to the number of shareable rides if the number of taxis was to drop in any of the four cities. They found that despite lower average demand for mobility or fewer available cars, shareability followed a universal law with the same feasibility-demand curve exhibited in all four cities.

This trend suggests shareability remains high even if demands drops and mass adoption of ride sharing could theoretically be possible in any sizeable city, not jus the four included in the study published in Scientific Reports.


“Although these four cities superficially look different, their shareability curves look the same,” says Steven Strogatz, a mathematician at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and co-author on the latest study. “It’s amazing to me that it works as well as it does.”

Previously, Ratti and colleagues found most yellow cab rides which start and end in Manhattan could pick up more than one customer in the 5-minute shareable ride threshold. After they crunched some numbers based on GPS data the researchers found ride sharing could slash the total number of miles driven by yellow cabs by 40% and emissions by just as much.

“If people share more rides, traffic will be reduced because vehicle occupancy will increase. With less traffic, travel time will decrease, increasing the potential for further ride sharing,” Ratti said.

This model, however, does not take into consideration a wide range of social and economic factors. If people can share a taxi ride with a stranger, it doesn’t necessarily mean they would do it — not without an incentive. This incentive could be a much lower cost for the taxi ride or very tight safety regulations to ensure that people use ride sharing services with confidence. The study, however, only looked at abstract network connections so maybe the findings don’t actually describe a ‘universal’ law after all.

However, the results do suggest there’s a huge potential in ride sharing. The challenge is to develop an urban transport framework that can involve all stakeholders and distribute value. If taxi companies lose money, for instance, they will likely become against mass ride sharing. Likewise, if many taxi drivers lose their jobs, that’s also an undesirable effect.

concrete parking garage

What is concrete: how concrete is made and why it’s so important

Concrete practically surrounds us, but how many of us really know what it is? Almost every building project on the planet uses concrete at some point in the process: footings and foundations for homes, office buildings, and highway projects, as well as sidewalks, architectural elements, dams, and skyscrapers. From bridges to swimming pools to highways, concrete has probably been used to construct it. It’s versatile, relatively inexpensive, and it endures under punishing conditions.


concrete parking garage

Concrete is the foundation material to mankind’s buildings, streets, and cities going back to Roman times. Yet, it’s not something the average non-construction worker can tell you about without a quick trip to their computer keyboard. So to solve the mystery of today’s concrete, we’ve got to look at its history and its origins.

First of all, the term concrete does not define a specific material—more a mix of them. Cement and broken stone or gravel is mixed with water to form concrete. Basically, a mix of paste and rock that hardens. The magic behind concrete’s great history and vast array of uses comes from its multitude of uses; concrete, as well as cement (think of it as a kind of glue), can be shaped and molded while wet but is incredibly hard, strong and durable after it dries.

The history of concrete 

Concrete as a building material is thought to have been used as early as 6500 B.C., beginning in what is now known as Syria and Jordan. Ancient structures, many of which are still standing today, have been identified by most Scholars as being constructed from some form of concrete. The process of mixing sand, gravel, limestone, and water for building materials was used, in one form or another, throughout the ancient world for thousands of years. Babylonians and Assyrians used clay as the mortar or ‘glue’ to keep their rock, gravel, and sand mixtures in place. But it was not until the rise of the Roman Empire that concrete was able to ‘hold its own,’ as it were. The discovery of an ancient form of cement is what first changed the nature of what we now call concrete.

The metamorphosis of a pliable substance into one that a civilization could be built upon is what first fascinated the Romans in the early 1st Century. The Parthenon and the Colosseum were both constructed using Roman concrete and are still partially standing to this day. But Roman engineers did not merely improve upon the ancient mixture—sometimes called ‘Liquid Stone’—they created what would become the most widely used man-made building material in the modern world.

The Romans found magic in a volcano known as Campi Flegrei, near the town of Pozzuoli, Italy. Specifically, a magic volcanic dust that turned to stone when it touched water. This ‘magic’ dust was known as ‘Pozzolana’ and was a construction miracle for the Roman world.

As it turns out, Pozzolana—Italian volcanic ash—is the perfect mixture of silica oxides and lime, which, when mixed with water is the basis for what we now call cement. It has been speculated that ancient Roman engineers observed the hardening of volcanic materials when it entered the sea and wondered if the process could be re-created in the building process. As a result, concrete and the Roman building boom was born.

The weight-bearing abilities and pure durability of concrete made it the material of choice for many ancient builders, who used it to construct baths, piers, and harbors for the Romans. However, when the Roman Empire fell in the 5th Century A.D., knowledge of concrete fell with it. Concrete making was lost to history for more than a thousand years—out of use and out of mind until the 19th Century. An Englishman named Joseph Aspdin rediscovered concrete and patented it as Portland Cement in 1824. Mr. Aspdin’s patented cement still makes up the majority of what we call grout, mortar, and stucco in today’s buildings.

How concrete is made

how concrete is made

Making concrete isn’t that different from one of children’s favorite pastimes: making stuff out of mud using molds, then left to dry in the sun. No skyscrapper ever could be made out of mud, of course, so there must be more to it.

Essentially, concrete is made by mixing two essential components: aggregates and paste. In the composition of modern concrete, there are various materials that are used by the industry as aggregates. These include sand, gravel or crushed stone. The particle size of the aggregates can matter a lot, depending on the type of construction. Fine aggregate is considered anything with particles smaller than 0.2 inches (5 millimeters), while coarse aggregates can be as large as 1.5 inches (38 millimeters).

The paste is most of the time cement — a mix of limestone, clay, gypsum and various other minerals or chemicals.

Aggregates and paste need to mixed in the right proportion if we’re to make strong and durable concrete. If you don’t put enough paste, then the concrete will have too many voids between aggregates (porous concrete and rough surface). Excess cement will always produce a nice, smooth surface but this can crack more easily and can become costly.

After the material have been appropriately proportioned, water is added in the right amount. The water-cement ratio is the weight of the mixing water divided by the weight of the cement. A chemical process called hydration is initiated. During this reaction, each cement particle forms a node that grows, linking up with other cement particles or adhering to nearby aggregates.

When the resulting mixture dries, it forms a solid stonelike mass. The best concrete has a low water-cement ratio. Engineers play with this ratio until they reach a soft spot between quality and fresh concrete workability.

Typically, the industry uses a mix that looks like this: cement (10 to 15 percent), aggregate (60 to 75 percent) and water (15 to 20 percent). Air is an inevitable component of concrete and makes-up 5 to 8 percent.

Rediscovering concrete

The main ingredients in Portland cement—the literal mortar of the modern world—are calcium silicates, formed when limestone and clay are mixed and heated to over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Chemically, roughly the same formula that created ‘Pozzolana’ inside the Campi Flegrei volcano centuries before.

The trick is in remembering that cement is not the same as concrete. In the many years since 1824, the construction industry has tweaked, improved, and expanded the formula for making concrete with a mountain of additives and processes, but cement is still the glue that holds everything together.

Today’s concrete, with cement as one of its main components, is able to support huge amounts of weight without crumbling. It has compressive strength. Concrete is limited however, when it comes to tensile strength—the ability to bend. Concrete breaks when it bends. That’s a big problem when building bridges, dams or support columns that must make constant adjustments for weather and wear to endure.

The tensile strength of concrete has been enhanced since Roman times with additions to the chemical mix. In 1849, just twenty-five years after the patenting of Portland Cement, Joseph Monier, a Parisian pot-maker, invented reinforced concrete. Monier received a patent for his method of adding steel bars or mesh to concrete before it hardens, which brought about yet another innovation in modern building techniques and improved the tensile strength of concrete. Reinforced Concrete is still widely used today in a multitude of projects, from skyscrapers, dams, war memorials, bridges, and highways.

The future of concrete

Traditional concrete can absorb only 300 millimeters of water an hour. In contrast, Topmix can safely due away 36,000 millimeters of water an hour.

Now that you know what concrete is, you should also know what it’s in the process of becoming. Many new forms of the ancient mixture are being developed and increasingly used in construction today. One of most exciting improvements to concrete in recent years is the development of pervious concrete.

Also known as porous pavement, pervious concrete holds qualities opposite to traditional concrete in that its particles are so large they allow water to seep all the way through them. Rather than repelling water and causing urban flooding after a rain like impervious concrete does, pervious concrete allows natural run-off and ground absorption of the water. Together with the promise of driverless cars, pervious concrete could bring about significant changes to driving conditions in the near future. Also, self-repairing concrete is definitely something to watch.

No matter what you call it, though, the world as we know it would not exist without the discovery and use of concrete. It’s in our buildings, our cities, and our highways. It’s the very bedrock of our civilization and is contained in most everything we look at, live and work in, and drive on.

These futuristic flying pods could one day redefine transportation

Imagine if, instead of driving in the crowded traffic or taking the bus to work, you could just fly, above the street. That’s the idea behind skyTran, a self-driving monorail that hopes to revolutionize the way we think about transportation.

Image via SkyTran.

According to CEO Jerry Sanders, the system could turn a two-hour car commute into a 10-minute trip, traveling at 150 mph (241 km/h) some 20 feet above the ground (6 meters).

“Everyone hates commuting, but there are no solutions,” Sanders said in an interview. “The only way to get around traffic is to literally go above it.”

In case you think the technology is a bit sci-fi, you couldn’t be further from the truth. A 900 foot test station (274 meters) will be set up in Tel Aviv, Israel, by the end of the year, with real-scale systems potentially being deployed by 2018 in India, France, and the US.

Image via SkyTran.

The technology uses magnets to hang from slender rails, with a single pod using about as much electricity as two hair driers. If that sounds somewhat familiar, you’re probably thinking about Maglev trains. Maglev (Magnetiv Levitation) is an innovative transport method that uses magnetic levitation to move vehicles more easily. Because the trains don’t touch the ground, the friction is greatly reduced, and the vehicle travels along a guideway, with the magnets creating both lift and propulsion.

The skyTrans’ aluminum rail would levitate with just gravity, magnets, and a short burst of electricity. After a short burst of electricity speeds it up to 10 mph, it will accelerate using a process called passive magnetic levitation. But it’s not just that it’s fast and it consumes very little electricity – but constructing it is easy as well. NASA claims it would only cost about $13 million per mile to build, whereas a subway system can cost at least $160 million for the same distance.

The tracks could go to important locations, like airports, hospitals or universities, but at one point, it could even connect individual apartments. Construction lasts for only a few days, doesn’t take up a lot of space, and so far, NASA has developed four different types of steel and aluminum pods — one that sits two people, one that sits four, one for the disabled, and one for larger cargo. The goal is to have the system learn from itself – how many people use it at what hours – and adjust its pod delivery accordingly.

“No more road rage. No more pollution,” Sanders says. “People can get where they want to go with a smile on their face.” In cities where people spend hours in traffic, skyTran may just offer the alternative we need.