Don’t forget the need for zero-emission buses in the push for electric cars


NH53/Flickr, CC BY

John Stone, The University of Melbourne; Iain Lawrie, The University of Melbourne, and Nat Manawadu, The University of MelbourneAs part of efforts to decarbonise urban transport, Australian states and the ACT have announced various zero-emission bus trials and targets for replacing diesel buses. These trials are designed to help resolve some of the complex technical and contractual issues facing bus operators and public transport agencies.

It is important to remember the vital role of buses, and public transport more generally, in decarbonising the transport sector — Australia’s third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. We fear this point has been lost in recent climate advocacy highlighting the slow pace of the transition to green propulsion for private cars in Australia.

Chart showing Australian transport sector greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2020

Chart. The Conversation. Data: National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Quarterly Update December 2020, CC BY



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Our research aims to learn more about the obstacles to an effective transition to zero-emission buses. We are engaging mainly with groups connected with the trial announced by the Victorian Department of Transport in late 2020, but the issues are similar across Australia.

Why can’t we rely on electric cars?

Even if Australia’s transition to green-electric cars is successful, the climate benefits will be less than we need. The carbon costs of manufacturing replacements for Australia’s 20 million-strong vehicle fleet will be equivalent to around 20 years’ emissions from Australia’s dirtiest brown coal generator at Yallourn. And tonnes of concrete and bitumen will continue to be laid for new toll roads and car parks.

A city of electric vehicles will also perpetuate the fatal burdens of car dependence: urban sprawl, inequitable access to the riches of city life, suppression of cycling and walking, and a host of health risks ranging from physical inactivity to air pollution. Even if exhausts were cleaner, recent UK research shows a significant proportion of damaging particulates come from worn tyres and brake linings.

To protect the climate and to make city life safer, fairer and healthier, we need policies that take cars off the roads, regardless of how they are fuelled.

Late afternoon congestion in both directions on the Kwinana Freeway (looking north towards and onto the Narrows Bridge) in Perth, Western Australia
Apart from emissions, electric cars won’t solve the other problems associated with heavy car use – such as traffic jams – and could even make them worse.
Orderinchaos/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA



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Bus services are under-utilised — we can fix that

The technical complexities of the transition to zero-emission buses could, if we are not careful, lead governments to lose sight of this bigger picture. Buses can help reduce demand for car travel, but only if they operate as effective links in a seamless public transport network.

In Melbourne, for example, many buses run almost empty. Routes are convoluted and services infrequent. It would be a travesty to invest millions in moving to greener buses without improving services in ways that increase patronage.

We can use internationally proven techniques to restructure the network so buses provide practical and convenient alternatives to the car. We can then attract a new generation of riders who currently think that “buses are not for me”. This is achievable within current Australian urban densities.




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What other challenges must be overcome?

The first technical challenge is to decide between electric battery and hydrogen power. Most governments are leaning towards batteries. This is largely because the technology and its support systems are more evolved.

However, not all battery buses are created equal. One configuration might work well for a bus that will operate on short routes and can easily return to base to recharge. A bus that will operate on longer or steeper routes might need a different set-up. Operators will need to understand these trade-offs before they order new vehicles.

electric bus operating on the Balmain route in Sydney
One of Sydney’s ‘Electric Blu’ buses running on the Balmain route – operators must select battery-powered buses that suit their intended route.
MDRZ/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

As established supply chains and cost structures for fossil fuels become obsolete, operators will also need to come to grips with the intricacies of Australia’s electricity market. At the same time, the power industry is grappling with new forecasts for demand and the infrastructure required for secure supply. Added to this, there are fears of a repeat of the “gold-plating” by private energy providers and distributors that has plagued the industry in recent years.

The change of power source also creates new challenges for fleet managers. If the transition takes several years, how will an operator manage the changing demands on depot space for refuelling and maintenance? Are depots in the right locations for new patterns of refuelling and deployment? How will the workforce gain the new skills they will need?




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Issues won’t be resolved overnight

These issues and other technical questions can certainly be resolved. However, the institutional framework in which this must occur makes it hard to imagine it can be done quickly.

In Melbourne, buses operate under more than 15 different contracts, some with multinationals and others with tiny family businesses. These contracts vary in their provisions for determining routes and frequencies, for fleet and depot ownership, and for rollover or re-tendering. This complexity is a historical legacy compounded by decades of political and bureaucratic inertia.

The challenge for governments is to find a path to introducing zero-emission buses and reforming bus networks that deals with the technical uncertainties and the allocation of cost and risk in a fragmented market. The arrival of new commercial players — offering combined bus procurement, operation, charging infrastructure and energy supply — makes the market all the more complex. Nevertheless, success is crucial for the climate and for the health of our cities.




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The Conversation


John Stone, Senior Lecturer in Transport Planning, The University of Melbourne; Iain Lawrie, PhD Candidate and Sessional Lecturer in Planning, The University of Melbourne, and Nat Manawadu, Research Assistant, Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Plain sailing: how traditional methods could deliver zero-emission shipping



File 20180525 51141 igdfic.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Avontuur recently completed a sail-powered transatlantic cargo voyage.
Timbercoast

Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne

On May 10, the 43.5-metre schooner Avontuur arrived in the port of Hamburg. This traditional sailing vessel, built in 1920, transported some 70 tonnes of coffee, cacao and rum across the Atlantic. The shipping company Timbercoast, which owns and operates Avontuur, says it aims to prove that sailing ships can offer an environmentally sustainable alternative to the heavily polluting shipping industry, despite being widely seen as a technology of yesteryear.




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Similar initiatives exist across the world. In the Netherlands, Fairtransport operates two vessels on European and transatlantic routes. In France, Transoceanic Wind Transport sails multiple vessels across the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean, and along European coasts. The US-based vessel Kwai serves islands in the Pacific. And Sail Cargo, based in Costa Rica, is building Ceiba, a zero-emission cargo sailing ship.

Transporting cargo by sail is both a practical response to climate change and a contribution to a larger debate.

These initiatives have an environmental objective: transporting cargo without generating greenhouse gas emissions. But are they really a viable alternative to today’s huge fossil-fuelled maritime cargo transport industry?

Shipping emission targets?

On April 13, 2018, the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body that regulates shipping, agreed for the first time to limit the sector’s greenhouse emissions. It’s targeting a 50% reduction by 2050 (relative to 2008 levels), with the aim to phase out emissions entirely.

This was a breakthrough, given that both the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement exclude international shipping (and international aviation) from emissions targets, because these are so hard to attribute to individual countries.

Conventional seaborne cargo transport is relatively energy-efficient. It emits less greenhouse gas per tonne-kilometre (one tonne of goods transported over one kilometre) than transport by train, truck or plane. But because 80-90% of all goods we consume are transported by sea, the total emissions of the shipping industry are immense.

According to figures from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), shipping accounts for 2-3% of global emissions – outstripping the 2% share generated by civil aviation.

As the global demand for goods increases, so does the need for shipping. As a result, the IMO has projected that the sector’s greenhouse emissions will grow by anything between 50% and 250% between 2012 and 2050, despite improvements in fuel composition and efficiency. More worryingly, a commentary on that report in Nature Climate Change warns that “none of the anticipated shipping scenarios even approach what is necessary for the sector to make its ‘fair and proportionate’ contribution to avoiding 2℃ of warming”.

A recent report commissioned by the European Parliament raises further alarm bells, underscoring the fact that the sector’s huge growth is likely to swamp any carbon savings that come from improved operations. On top of this, the significant progress made in other industries means that the relative share of greenhouse gas emissions from cargo shipping is likely to increase from the current 2-3% to 17% by 2050.

Yo ho ho, shipping rum the old-fashioned way aboard the Aventuur.
Timbercoast

Zero-emission vessels?

The OECD International Transport Forum is less pessimistic. It projects a 23% increase in the sector’s emissions between 2015 and 2035 on current trends, but also argues that it will be possible to decarbonise maritime transport altogether by 2035, through the “maximum deployment of currently known technologies”.

These emissions-reducing propulsion technologies include kites, solar electricity, and advanced sail technology. Some of them, such as Flettner rotors, are already in use. But these will not be scaled up and become viable unless there is strict regulation, even if some shipping companies have taken steps to reduce their emissions ahead of a binding IMO target. Electricity-propelled container barges operate in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the IMO faced a tricky balancing act in juggling the priorities of different countries. Climate-vulnerable nations such as the Marshall Islands want shipping emissions to be cut entirely by 2035. The European Union has proposed a reduction of 70-100% by 2050, while emerging economies such as Brazil, Saudi Arabia and India have argued against any emissions target at all. Despite these differences, the IMO did agree on a 50% reduction target by 2050 in April 2018.

Sail cargo

It took Avontuur 126 days to sail from France to Honduras, Mexico, Cuba and home to Germany. But conventional container ships can cross the Atlantic in about a week. Avontuur was carrying more than 70 tonnes of cargo on arrival in Germany. But many cargo vessels now carry more than 20,000 standard shipping containers (TEU), each weighing more than 2 tonnes and able to hold more than 20 tonnes of cargo.

Given the relatively small capacity of sailing ships, it is expensive and labour-intensive to ship cargo this way. But despite these limitations, support for sail cargo initiatives is growing. A consortium of small North Sea ports, for example, will “create sail cargo hubs in small ports and harbours, giving local businesses direct access to ethically transported goods”.

Ceiba, a new sailing vessel builds on traditional skills and incorporates new technologies to help attain global carbon emission targets.

These initiatives signal the revival of sail cargo with an explicit environmental agenda, although this effort is dwarfed by the scale of the global shipping industry. But while they don’t stack up in logistical terms, these voyages can help us see the possibilities for a world without fossil fuels. Sail cargo aims to rethink not only the means of propulsion for cargo vessels, but the entire scale, economy and ethics of cargo transport.

Traditional sailing vessels like Avontuur will not be able to compete with conventional cargo vessels on speed, scale or cost. But they help us focus on the underlying issue. We ship too much, too often and too far. The scale of shipping is unsustainable. That is why we need a change of mindset as much as a change of technology.

The ConversationSail cargo initiatives raise awareness about the devastating environmental effects of conventional cargo shipping. And they do so by showing that an alternative is possible. Indeed, it has been around for thousands of years.

Christiaan De Beukelaer, Lecturer in Cultural Policy, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.