Sustainable transport gaining serious mileage

November 2nd, 2011 | 

by Dr. Sgouris Sgouridis

There is no doubt that climate change poses a grave danger, if there are any questions to be raised, they should be on our level of preparedness to face this challenge head on. We need to identify innovative ways of coming up with the most effective solutions in renewable energy and sustainability.

One of the most effective ways of combating climate change would be to improve specific aspects of our everyday interaction with the environment, transportation is a case in point.

The transport sector globally is the single highest energy consumer[i] (around 19%[ii]) producing around a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions, this is probably not surprising given that much of the world depends on one form of motorised transport or another in their day-to-day lives.

Although road transport accounts for 75% of worldwide transport CO2 emissions according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), aviation and shipping are rapidly catching up[iii]. If we continue on the current path, the amount of energy we use and the associated CO2 emissions that are likely to be produced could increase by 50% by 2030, clearly an unsustainable prospect.

To mitigate this scenario, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends that CO2 emissions be reduced by 50% by 2050, this may seem like a tall order particularly for the world’s governments, vehicle manufacturers, aircraft makers and ship builders but we are already seeing meaningful progress in these areas.

For example, the global aviation industry today contributes around 2.1% of CO2 emissions and initiatives in the use of alternative fuels for air transport are beginning to really take off!

Here in the Middle East, aviation is a particularly strong growing transport sector, as the region rapidly develops economically and emerges as the modern world’s crossroads between East and West. As transit hubs in the UAE and Qatar see their respective airline fleets rapidly swell, we could witness an increasing interest and investment in reducing their carbon footprints.

Indeed, we have seen real steps being taken in this direction, in my role as Assistant Professor at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology I have been fortunate enough to lead a unique study into jet fuel made from saltwater plants – which are abundant in this region – in partnership with Abu Dhabi based Etihad Airlines, Boeing and Honeywell’s oil and gas processing arm, UOP. Other international carriers such as KLM, Lufthansa and Continental Airlines have been testing various types of biofuels with Aeromexico launching the world’s first transcontinental flight powered partially by oil from the Jatropha Curcas oilseed plant.

Back on the ground, the world’s first carbon-neutral city, Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, began a year-long electric vehicle pilot project with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to look into the feasibility of having a point-to-point transport system. If successful, the scheme could not only have major implications for the future of road transport at Masdar City but for the Middle East region at large.

These are just the kinds of initiatives that have the potential to impact our daily lives but they also need the encouragement and support of the world community in order to make the journey from the drawing board or the testing stage into real world sustainable transportation solutions. Recognising this, the Zayed Future Energy Prize seeks to not only highlight but stimulate and inspire renewable energy and sustainable solutions every year by awarding innovative and deserving candidates in this field from all around the world.

This year once again, I have had the privilege to chair the Review Committee meeting which was held last week to shortlist the top 33 candidates for the $4 million 2012 Prize. Over the course of the two-day meeting, we had the chance to review some excellent submissions representing parts of the renewable energy and sustainability community that are either directly or indirectly related to transportation. In 2010 we saw Toyota awarded for bringing us all one major step closer to sustainable transport with its efforts in mass-producing the world’s first hybrid fuel, the Prius since 1997.

The Zayed Future Energy Prize represents the latest in a whole host of bold moves for the UAE in renewable energy and sustainability, with the increase in the number of candidates who have submitted their green initiatives for the 2012 Prize, it’s clear that there is a genuine hunger for clean and sustainable innovations.

Dr. Sgouris Sgouridis is Assistant Professor at the Masdar Institute of Science & Technology, sustainable transportation is one of his research areas.

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