Green Transportation
Moving toward a transportation system that fuels healthy people and a healthy planet.


The Eco Side Effects of Car Accidents

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If you've ever been in a serious car accident, you know how scary and overwhelming it can be, especially when you consider the costs and the time-consuming nature of dealing with repairs, insurance and getting a replacement vehicle.

To add insult to injury, your car accident may have other unexpected negative effects on the environment. From piled-up debris and oil leaks to vehicle wreckage adding to landfill waste, here's how accidents are affecting the earth — and what we can do to reduce the damage.

Debris

If you've ever seen a serious car accident, you know there can be tons of debris in the aftermath –from metal and plastic pieces to rubber and glass. If this debris isn’t removed right away, it can become a hazard to animals. They can get tangled in the debris, or even injure themselves while scavenging the wreckage for food.

Oil Leaks 

Just one quart of motor oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of water. When a car’s oil tank is damaged in an accident, motor oil can leak out, exposing the surrounding environment to toxic chemicals and damaging the air and soil. Engine oil can even seep into groundwater, severely affecting wildlife and vegetation. Motor oil adheres to bird feathers and sand and seeps into the soil, wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem. And if a fire breaks out after an accident, motor oil will vaporize (as you might see when oil leaks out onto your engine). This creates dark smoke that pollutes the air.

Vehicle Wreckage as Landfill Waste

After a car accident, the unusable parts usually end up in a landfill where they rot away with the rest of the world's garbage. The only problem is that the material used to make this machinery isn't biodegradable, so instead of degrading naturally, the wreckage sits in a landfill indefinitely.

Other Fluid Leaks

After an accident, fluids like transmission fluid and coolant can also leak from your car, causing harm to the environment. The coolant in your vehicle typically contains a chemical called ethylene glycol, which can damage the nervous system of animals and humans alike if they’re exposed to large amounts of it. Transmission fluid is particularly tricky to remove once it reaches the ground, so it can often stay on pavement for longer than other fluids. As it breaks down and becomes exposed to the sun, the chemicals in the air can cause breathing problems in humans and exacerbate air pollution.

Water Pollution

It might not seem like it, but car accidents can have a direct effect on nearby water sources. Fluids that leak from your car after an accident can easily spill into the street and get washed into rivers, streams, lakes or even storm drains. Fluids can also seep into the ground and the waterways, causing sickness to those who drink that water – whether that’s animals or humans. Even plants can be affected if a nearby water source is polluted. 

All these environmental hazards reinforce why it's important to make sure you do everything you can to prevent car accidents. This means keeping your vehicle safe and well maintained.

What You Can Do to Prevent Car Accidents

Keep your engine in good shape. This means getting all your scheduled tune-ups every few thousand miles and making sure you're using the right grade of motor oil.

Keep your tires inflated and rotate them regularly. One of the best ways to stay safe on the road is to keep your tires properly inflated so that they last longer and keep you safer. Properly inflated tires can also improve your gas mileage by more than 3 percent. Check your tire pressure often and make sure your tires are in good condition. Once the tread wears down past about 4/32 inches, it's time to think about replacing them. You can check your tread depth by simply using pocket change.

Take a defensive driving class. For many of us, it's probably been a while since we've taken defensive driving or driver's ed. Why not take a refresher course? Depending on your age and insurance company, you may even get a discount on your car insurance, so it’s a win-win.

Looking at car accidents from an environmental point of view can help you understand the tremendous impact they have on water, air, soil, humans, plants and animals. Correcting behaviors that can lead to accidents is the first step in combatting the issue. These are just a few things to keep in mind as you begin to think about your own environmental impact and how you can live a more eco-friendly lifestyle – one that will benefit us all in the long run.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance, where he is responsible for all initiatives related to marketing strategy, product and service innovation, and strategic partnerships. He manages the annual planning processes for the marketing and service business units. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how IoT, blockchain and machine learning will impact the car insurance industry.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Solarrolla Inc.: Solar Powered Electric Vehicles

Time has passed and Solarrolla has grown. The utility of solar powered vehicles is becoming apparent.

Since our last blog we have completed our largest vehicle to date.  At 12,000 lbs this 2012 already electric International eStar delivery truck made the perfect platform for a solar powered electric RV.

Route del Sol's eStar

With just two months to build this vehicle and beat the oncoming winter in Alaska, Solarrolla put Joel Gregory Hayes on the Pan American Highway (see @routedelsol on all platforms). Joel's environmentally responsible attitude meshed with the intentions of Solarrolla this summer and Joel is now travelling the Pan Am highway from the Arctic Circle to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina in a fully solar powered RV!  Currently he is in Vancouver, B.C. gearing up for his stateside demonstration.

Joel's project began with buying a 2012 International eStar donor vehicle.  The eStar already possessed an electric drive train and a 80kwhr battery bank.  We added a 40 kwhr secondary battery pack for increased range. We outfitted the vehicle with 7,200 watts of custom framed, flexible solar and dialed it in to pull an actual 5kw continuously on a sunny day.....all day as the 24 by 15 foot array tracks. The vehicle is capable of 200 mile runs driving conservatively with up to 100 miles a day from the sun when spanning out its wings in a stationary position.  While in transit the vehicle collects almost 1800 watts of solar energy. We equipped the vehicle with a Outback Radian 8kw inverter.  Joel's eStar can charge other vehicles, and even send power into the grid…imagine the possibilities. See videos of the entire build and all the magic on our YouTube channel "Solarrolla" or at solarrolla.com.

The team

It’s a lot of work to integrate solar power into an already dedicated electric vehicle.

Battery management systems tend to not particularly like power from an unknown source entering their kingdom. One way around this is to direct solar power on the EV to a secondary battery pack then transfer that power into the vehicle directly through its charging port.  This way you have a sort of reserve tank that you transfer at your own discretion to solarize your ride and give you more range plus a little back up just in case.

This is how we built Joel's vehicle and this is the way we can solar power any electric vehicle. 

Installing Secondary Battery Pack

Does size matter?  Now that I have actually built a large solar powered vehicle I must say…bigger the better!  More size holds more panels and larger battery packs.  Although weight is an issue, driving slower seems to be more tolerated by other drivers in general. The biggest advantage is that you can bring the comforts of home with you.  RVs have awnings....without these awnings increasing the solar power production, Joel's eStar would be more of a daily driver/grocery getter.

We believe in solar powered vehicles, but we also believe that we as humans could also curb our desire for speed and consumption travelling slower, more efficiently and more consciously paralleling a sustainable path with nature. Solarrolla is truly on the side of tortoise, slow and steady.

If size isn't your thing check out version 2.0 of the Solar Rover Electric Scooter.  With a one hundred watt panel putting in actual 80 watts it charges about 30 miles a day. The vehicle holds 100 miles worth of storage which weighs just 30 lbs!  Two independent 500 watt hub motors power you up any hill and well to your 25 mph top speed legal limit.

Stop in the sun and your miles go up accordingly…..can't stop smiling!!!

Remember the burning man scooter that inspired this!!!??

 Solar Rover 2.0

As we get deeper within our solar powered vehicles we find deeper meanings in what we are really doing.  Simply put, at Solarrolla we are encouraging energy awareness.  From where it come from to how it is distributed and finally where it goes...it is important for us all to understand.

We realized we could do this on a tiny level and that motivated us to create a solar cell phone charger.  OK sorry it doesn't have wheels, but it will put 3 watts of power anytime it's in the sun into your 6800mahr double 18650 storage pack…. here we go looking to nature for our power directly.  This process encourages us to also refine our usage, (like turning off unnecessary power robbing apps) to meet in the sustainable middle.

 3 Watt Cell Phone Charger

In October we built a 200 Watt mobile power unit for a local company to run their 3D printers. It has a 200 Watt panel, 2000 watt hour lithium pouch cell battery, AIMS Power 1500 watt 48 VDC Pure Sine Power Inverter and an adjustable tracking actuator. This little unit is perfect to run tools, lights, small equipment, etc. We would like to offer this unit as a way for folks to get their hands wet with solar power systems and to enjoy it without all the complexity and cost of a home system.

Mobile Power Unit

This year has been a big one for us as we formed Solarrolla Inc., built our largest vehicle to date, developed the Solar Rover Scooter, built a mobile power unit and solar cell phone chargers. This winter we are excited to announce that we will be converting and adding solar to a VW Bus for Redfoo, front man of the band LMFAO. Stay tuned for more information. This project will be video documented so be sure to follow and subscribe to us on all platforms @solarrolla to get the latest updates (see links in bio below).

The Solarrolla shop and fleet

Brett Belan is the CEO and head engineer at Solarrolla Inc. located in Ashland, Oregon. The company develops and builds solar powered electric vehicles and mobile charging stations. In 2015 he converted a 1973 VW bus to a fully electric, solar powered vehicle. In 2018 he and his team built a fully solar powered electric RV that is travelling the Pan American Highway. Currently he is developing a solar powered electric scooter called the Solar Rover and working on a commissioned  VW Bus conversion. Find out more at: solarrolla.com Follow Solarrolla on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter and read the article in Home Power magazine. Read all of Brett’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Innovations that Will Transform Electric Vehicle Efficiency in the Next Decade

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Electric vehicles (EVs) have come a long way in the past 10 years. They've gone from niche to mainstream within the market and on the streets — and it doesn't look like EV sales are slowing down anytime soon. More and more consumers and companies have invested not only in the vehicles themselves, but also in the infrastructure it takes to run them. With advancements in technology, owning an EV is cheaper, easier and more accessible than ever before. 

Over the next 10 years, it's likely that innovations in charging, battery technology and ridesharing will increase and provide new advances for these eco-friendly vehicles. 

More Power Availability and Longer Ranges Make for Easier Driving

In most places in the U.S., it's now easy to access charging for longer-range EVs. In fact, it's possible to drive coast to coast on electric power alone, making "range anxiety" a thing of the past.

The Tesla charging network is a well-known piece of infrastructure in the EV world, but it isn't the only one. GM and Volkswagen are starting to invest in charging networks as well. Increased access to charging means that one of the biggest fears around EVs is one step closer to extinction. 

Advances in technology could also make it easier to charge. BMW announced this May that they would start adding a wireless charging option on their 530e iPerformance PHEV. With this wireless system, you could essentially drive onto a pad and let your car charge through induction. If this technology works as predicted, it could open up copious possibilities and locations for charging, from roads to parking garages.

In fact, some of that is already in the works. The Swedish Transport Administration created a road that could charge an EV while driving, called eRoad Arlanda. This road works through conduction, providing power to the vehicle even while in motion. 

Designs suited better to the needs of an electric drivetrain are also helping to increase the range and efficiency of EVs. With weight reduction and aerodynamic optimization, it’s easier than ever to drive longer ranges. For every 10 percent that drag is reduced by aerodynamics, the car's range can increase by 5 percent.

Lower Costs Lead to Greater Accessibility 

Over time, electric vehicles have become less expensive. There are a few reasons for this. One reason is the simple economics of supply and demand. Competition has brought down the prices of these vehicles, which were once out of the price range of the average car buyer. Options like the Chevrolet Bolt (which has an impressive 238-mile range, longer than the range of the standard Tesla) and the Nissan Leaf have reasonable price tags attached. By now, there are also more pre-owned options on the market. 

Another factor in the drop in EV costs is lower battery costs. Batteries are the most expensive parts of these vehicles, but the prices are being driven down by advances in technology and also by investments by auto manufacturers as they start to make their own batteries. 

Daimler has opened a factory in Europe for self-sufficient battery production, and Tesla's Gigafactory has driven down their battery prices significantly as well. As more and more car brands cut out the middleman on battery production, the prices of the most expensive component will drop. Then, competition will continue to make these cars even more affordable. 

It's a New Era for Cars

Many consumers have come to see the detrimental effect that driving a gasoline-powered car has on the environment. With no tailpipe emissions, an EV doesn't directly contribute the same air pollution that an internal combustion engine would. Because of this, drivers have begun making the switch to electric. 

Others have decided to give up car ownership altogether, opting for ridesharing services like Uber or Lyft rather than owning or leasing a vehicle—and as predicted in a recent Esurance report, this trend will only continue in the future. Because of that, there's been a greater interest in making those services sustainable and cost-effective. Driverless cars are a key to doing this. Many of these driverless cars have been created using an EV as a platform. If ridesharing companies plan to go driverless, there's a good chance that they'll also be going electric in the process.

Then, there's the changing overall opinion on EVs. Many thought their batteries to be unreliable, but they've actually got fewer moving parts that can malfunction, and there's less routine maintenance required. There also used to be an unfounded stereotype that EVs weren't good for performance and had sluggish acceleration. It seems that cars like the BMW i8 and the Tesla Roadster are kicking that stereotype to the curb, as EVs actually have more torque and better acceleration than most internal combustion cars. More and more people are coming to understand how electric cars truly work and seeing the benefits of owning them. 

There's no doubt that EVs have a place on our future roads. As more investments are made in both these vehicles and the clean, sustainable power grids to run them, there's a better chance they can have a huge impact on the environment. As individuals and businesses start to see the advantages of driving on electric, more and more innovations will come with the demand. 

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how IoT, electric vehicles and machine learning will impact the auto insurance industry. You can learn more about Esurance’s car insurance options on their website.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Innovations That Will Green Our Future Transportation

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Over the last 50 years, advancements in transportation have been slow. Automobiles, planes, helicopters and trains move at about the same speeds today as they did in the 1960s. But lately, the transportation industry has entered a new era of innovation — one that doesn’t just update individual aspects of vehicles, but reimagines transport technology from the ground up.

From streamlined aerodynamic designs to super-efficient self-driving cars, here are a few innovations that are expected to help make the future of transportation greener and cleaner.   

Lightening the Load

Reducing a car’s weigh by about 220 pounds could increase its energy efficiency by over 3 percent, therefore lowering greenhouse emissions. That’s why engineers are looking to magnesium — the lightest metal on earth, one that’s easier to come by than steel and aluminum — to make transportation more lightweight.

But the problem with magnesium is that it isn’t as malleable as steel or aluminum. It’s prone to breaking under the conventional extrusion process, which makes it more difficult to use in manufacturing. Mixing magnesium with elements like dysprosium and ytterbium can make it stronger, but the process is very expensive.

Researchers have begun to study magnesium at an atomic level to see which other elements might yield plasticity at lower costs. There have also been successes in a new extrusion method, where magnesium is heated and softened through friction only — without resistance heaters. These breakthroughs could make manufacturing magnesium parts far more cost-effective. Not to mention, the manufacturing process itself may be more eco-friendly.

Another material slated for both cars and airplanes is unidirectional (UD) tape. UD fibers are durable, lightweight and moisture-absorbent, and they are often used in the aerospace and defense industries. UD tape can be quickly molded for aircraft parts and has the ability to withstand extreme temperatures and environmental conditions. Most importantly, it reduces overall vehicle weight, improving energy efficiency. One company, FORTAPE, was able to streamline manufacturing methods to reduce their otherwise expensive price tag. Two of their technologies are being used for aeronautic window frames and automotive door panels, but they are poised to be implemented for many other parts.

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Improving Aerodynamics

When we think of aerodynamics, we often think of vehicle design but not the medium through which the vehicle travels. In 2013, Elon Musk proposed the hypothetical “hyperloop,” which would transport passengers at hundreds of miles an hour in an airless tube. The absence of air reduces friction and energy usage, reducing what’s currently a 3-hour train ride from D.C. to New York to half an hour.

Since 2013, this scenario has moved from hypothetical to tangible. Many companies are now racing to develop the technology, designing and testing magnetically levitating pods on tracks. Hyperloops could save passengers from weather delays and city congestion. Given the reduction in energy usage, it might be a far greener alternative to airplanes and cars.

Virgin Hyperloop One’s plan, for instance, is to have pods hurtle along an electromagnetic track. Currents running through the tracks will propel the pods forward until they levitate and are driven by magnets. Once the pods are in hover mode, only a little bit of energy would be required to maintain speeds of nearly 700 mph.

Reusing Energy

Currently used in Formula 1 racing, Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) technology could eventually be used in passenger cars, too. It’s a system that transfers braking energy into electrical energy, which can be stored for later use. For instance, the kinetic energy of braking would be converted into electrical power and used to charge lithium ion batteries.

Another patent, created by Dr. Thomas Tso Hei Ma, stores acceleration power as compressed air in a tank and functions as an air-combustion engine combo, which lowers energy consumption and carbon emissions.

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Driverless Vehicles

Self-driving vehicles present the most significant shift in transportation, particularly when it comes to safety. Over 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error, but self-driving tech will remove the human variable altogether.

Another opportunity for autonomous vehicles is fuel efficiency. Autonomous vehicles will be easier on the pedals than we are. Humans are more prone to hard braking and flooring the accelerator, which contribute to carbon emissions — not to mention driverless vehicles can be programmed to take the most fuel-efficient routes everywhere they go.   

Evidence suggests a strong correlation between gridlocked traffic and carbon emissions. The University of California Transportation Center reports that improving traffic speeds from, say, 34 to 53 mph could lessen greenhouse gases by around 20 metric tons. Because driverless cars travel synchronously and are less likely to brake hard, there’s a fair chance we’ll see a significant reduction in traffic.

Finally, autonomous vehicles will also improve aerodynamics — in this case, commercial trucks driving in a closely-followed platoon to reduce draft. Driverless vehicles will be in constant communication with each other, so rather than a “shockwave” of braking that travels upstream, autonomous vehicles would travel at a closer following distance. A study from MIT predicts that platooning could save fuel costs by upwards of 20 percent.

One caveat for driverless vehicles, however, is that they might increase the number of miles driven on the road. Zero-occupancy cars are a major concern, as is suburban sprawl, since people might be more apt to live farther away from their workplaces. In other words, self-driving vehicles could increase fuel consumption and our eco-footprint without proper oversite. For this reason, there’ve been talks around incentivizing car owners to partake in ride-hailing services to reduce the number of unoccupied vehicles on the road. Think of it this way – if someone else’s unoccupied car will pass your place of work on the way to pick them up, you can simply hop in for the ride instead of driving yourself and adding to the number of cars on the road.

With proper planning, innovations like driverless vehicles and the hyperloop could fundamentally change roadway infrastructure itself — largely designed to account for human error. That means a reduced need for wider lanes, traffic lights, guard rails, medians and even sound walls. Slimming these structures down could make way for pedestrian-oriented spaces rife with vegetation. That’s a major boon for the environment — and by design, a major win for us.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance, where he is responsible for all initiatives related to marketing strategy, product and service innovation, and strategic partnerships. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about where transportation technology is headed and what it means for car insurance. Learn more about Esurance’s car insurance policies on their website.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Electric Driving in an Oil State

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States like Texas are famous for their connection to the oil industry, but that doesn't mean that driving an electric vehicle (EV) is out of the question. As the market for electric vehicles grows larger, states that would traditionally resist giving up petroleum are being forced to adapt.

In fact, Texas has become one of the better states for electric cars ownership, with favorable tax incentives, increased charging station availability and local governments that are investing in the electric infrastructure needed for a greener future. Here’s how one of the biggest oil states in the U.S. is rethinking driving — and what other states are doing to follow suit.

Tax Incentives

Typically, electric cars are more expensive than your standard internal combustion vehicle, especially when you compare the features and niceties inside. The federal government offers a hefty $7,500 tax credit to help lower the price tag, but Texas goes even further. In June of 2018, Texas reinstated their $2,500 state tax credit for purchasing an electric vehicle after a three-year hiatus from offering this credit. This is great news for Texans who want to drive green, as tax incentives are critical for making EVs and hybrids accessible to the average consumer.  

In addition to the tax rebate, the AirCheckTexas Drive a Clean Machine Vehicle Replacement Program from the Texas Department of Environmental Quality will give a further rebate of up to $3,500 for trading in for a more efficient vehicle, especially EVs and hybrids. However, the requirements for this program are a bit more stringent. You must be in a low-income bracket and your current vehicle must meet certain requirements for inefficiency. It's also only available to residents in certain parts of the state. 

Charging Station Availability

Texas is a big place, but there are already 960 charging stations across the state, allowing EV drivers to make it almost anywhere without running out of juice. Most of these charging stations are located in urban areas, but some are placed along highways that run through the state. 

Additionally, the federal government has designated several interstate highways to be "Interstate Charging Corridors," including Interstates 10, 20, 30, 35 and 45. This is backed up by $4.5 billion in guaranteed loans from the government to companies building EV charging stations – part of an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 80 percent by 2050. 

Austin: A Haven for EVs

The capital of Texas has gone all-in on making the switch to electric-powered transportation. The local power service, Austin Energy, offers EV owners a rebate to help install a fast-charging station (up to $1,200) at home, even if they live in an apartment building. Apartment buildings and condo complexes make it notoriously hard to own an EV, but if you have a designated parking spot or garage, you may qualify for the rebate. Austin will also help apartment and condo buildings install charging stations with rebates, as well as lend support for maintenance and marketing the high-demand amenity. 

EV owners can also take advantage of Austin Energy's EV360 pilot program, which offers unlimited charging at home between 7 p.m. and 2 p.m. for a flat $30/month fee (if you qualify). The program also offers unlimited access to Austin Energy charging stations throughout the city for $4.17/month. And even better news for green drivers — Austin Energy also says that charging your car during off-peak hours will use 100 percent renewable energy.

EV Ownership in Other Oil States

Texas isn't the only oil state with an EV-friendly environment. California is also a major oil producer, and also an EV-friendly state. California offers a staggering tax credit of up to $7,000, which nearly matches that of the Federal government. There are also HOV lane permissions, utility incentives, local jurisdiction rebates and discounts, as well as plenty of electric vehicle charging stations to go around. Other big oil producers like Oklahoma, Alaska and North Dakota have yet to equal Texas and California’s EV initiatives, but the times are certainly changing. The more states that follow Texas’s example, the easier it’ll be to own an EV almost anywhere in the U.S. 

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance. He is constantly thinking about how IoT, blockchain and machine learning will impact the auto insurance industry. Learn more about Esurance’s auto insurance policies by visiting their website.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Sustainable Shipping Solutions in Development Now

Many people know that the shipping industry as a whole has room for improvement when it comes to sustainability. Some eco-minded individuals prefer to buy locally produced things instead of those that require resource-guzzling trucks, boats or planes to get to their destinations. However, entities in the shipping sector have committed to making positive changes in sustainability. Some maritime-based projects underway at the moment seem particularly promising.

The Water-Go-Round Hydrogen Fuel Cell Ferry

Although ferries emit relatively fewer emissions than other maritime vehicles, they usually operate in highly populated areas, making those emissions more adversely impactful on human health. However, a California-based project wants to make a ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cells called the Water-Go-Round.

Construction should start this fall, with the ferry making its first trips about a year later. It’ll carry up to 84 passengers and be 70 feet long. Instead of producing dangerous pollutants like other ferries, the Water-Go-Round only makes heat and water vapor.

This project could be one that encourages the shipping industry to make these kinds of ferries, too. Passenger ferries don’t use as much fuel or power as other kinds of vessels that travel on the ocean, so they often serve as testing grounds for technology that eventually makes its way to the shipping industry.

It’s also helpful that the International Maritime Organization created a deal to make ships less contributory to the greenhouse gas problem the planet faces. The Water-Go-Round might indicate a path to progress.

Reusable Product Mailers

The rise in popularity of online shipping means people are accustomed to seeing cardboard boxes and plastic bubble mailers arrive on their doorsteps, filled with products they ordered only days earlier. Statistics indicate that people don’t only care about the items inside, but that 32 percent of Americans also want sustainable packaging.

Even when companies use recycled boxes and plastic envelopes, they still may end up in landfills because local recycling centers in communities have become overwhelmed by the number of items coming into the facilities. However, a company called LimeLoop wants to change that with plastic mailers that can be reused up to 2,000 times. They have zippers on one side, making them easy to open. Also, the mailers are created from upcycled vinyl billboards.

When one of these envelopes arrives at a customer’s doorstep, the person takes the product out, then attaches an included return shipping label to the outside of the mailer. From that point, they can put the mailer in any mailbox, and it’ll go back to the originating company’s distribution center.

LimeLoop mailers are being tested in a pilot program that’s allowing the manufacturer to collect data about how to make them better before they get produced for a widespread rollout. According to the company, if people replaced traditional shipping options with LimeLoop mailers, they could save up to a billion trees annually.

The potential for these mailers spans far beyond the maritime industry. However, if companies that used these mailers also decided to send them to destinations by way of improved maritime vessels, they could significantly increase their overall impact.

An Agreement Supporting Green Investments in the European Shipping Market

There are indeed numerous challenges that make sustainable shipping practices difficult to implement quickly. However, a €300 million agreement between ING and the European Investment Bank will support green shipping initiatives throughout Europe, potentially alleviating many of the financial- related barriers that make adoption of eco-friendly practices particularly tricky.

The investment focus is on the maritime sector, and funding recipients will use the money to retrofit existing vessels to make them more eco-friendly or purchase new ships that meet environmental sustainability requirements.

A Ship That Runs on Liquefied Natural Gas

The Forward Maritime Group recently won the Most Sustainable Project Award at a summit in Denmark for an initiative leading to shipping vessels powered by liquefied natural gas. The prototype emits up to 35 percent less CO2 than traditional ships. Representatives from Forward Maritime Group signed a letter of intent with Yangzijiang Shipbuilding, and the latter company will produce up to 20 ships in the new design.

An Autonomous Container Ship

A vessel called the Yara Birkeland could become the first zero-emission, autonomous container ship in the world. It’s the result of a Norwegian project that wants to transfer container shipments off the roads and into the oceans. This battery-powered ship could eliminate 40,000 diesel truck journeys each year.

Yara is a company that currently relies on up to 100 diesel trucks daily to transport products between its plants to prepare them for global shipments. If this project is successful, it could reduce dependence on those trucks, as well as the personnel needed to drive them.

Sea-Based Shipments Are Set for Better Sustainability

Shipping industry professionals know their sector isn’t among the most sustainable. However, with these projects and investments, those with the power to make progress are putting their funds and innovative ideas to use in ways that could forever change how products get shipped around the world via the water.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Next Level of Carpooling

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The idea of “access vs. ownership” has recently become a major trend that impacts consumer models across categories. According to marketing strategists, Gen Y, Gen Z and even some Gen X consumers are foregoing the American consumerism model in favor of “access” or “partial access” models. In other words, they’re reducing the things they own in favor of experiences like travel. 

Nowhere is this dynamic more impactful than in the future of car ownership. Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are already changing traditional transportation paradigms around the world, and fractional or access-based solutions like GetAround and Turo are changing the nature vehicle ownership and car access. This trend will accelerate as driverless vehicles shift from car ownership to a ride-hailing model. Absorbing the upfront purchase costs and ongoing maintenance of a car you only drive five percent of the time loses appeal in an environment where door-to-door service is available in the palm of your hand. Recent research from Esurance estimates that families could save $4,146 annually just by using fleet-owned autonomous vehicles instead of owning their own cars.

The shifting consumer trends, combined with the technological innovations, are turning heads in America’s biggest industries. Auto behemoths Ford and General Motors are already tapping the ridesharing space as part of their self-driving initiatives, and Google’s Waymo plans to roll out their robo-taxi service in Phoenix later this year.

While traditional car ownership won’t immediately go away, the trend toward fleet-owned, self-driving cars will only continue to increase. Your two-car family in the ’burbs may opt for one car, say, and urban one-car homes may get rid of them altogether.

This is a boon for your wallet and a win for the environment — and our wellbeing. On top of saving time, fuel, insurance premiums and high blood pressure (fewer cars means less traffic), here are some of the ways the future of ride-hailing can help shrink our eco-footprint.  

More Pedestrian-Friendly Spaces

The greatest promise for driverless cars is removing human error, which accounts for roughly 94 percent of auto accidents. Roadway infrastructure has long been designed to address this trend, engineering roads and highways to account for human behavior and safety at the lowest common denominator. Hence, wide enough lanes, rumble strips, medians and guardrails — plus street signs, highway signs, traffic lights and sound buffers are all elements of transportation that will be relegated to the past. 

Remove human error from the mix, and these buffers are no longer needed. Highways can be streamlined with narrower roads unobstructed by guardrails, medians and traffic lights, and all that space can be repurposed as parks and bike lanes.

But the most significant change of all: removing parking structures. The cars' ability to park themselves outside of dense areas may be most impactful. Again, freed-up space could be restored to pedestrian infill (like parks, walkways and trees) or even affordable housing. What were once city blocks choked by concrete could be transformed into tree-lined boulevards.

Think about it this way: L.A. County’s parking infrastructure uses up 14 percent of the city’s space. Imagine if all that space were suddenly relinquished for reuse.

Reduced Emissions

A RethinkX study found that, in a fully-autonomous world, “each car will be used at least 10 times more than individually owned cars,” which means far fewer vehicles will be required for a fleet.  And fewer vehicles mean reduced pollution. According to a 2017 study by University of California, Davis, if self-driving cars are electric and shared, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by a whopping 80 percent by 2050.

Will Our Eco-Footprint Get Worse Before it Gets Better?

There’s a glaring caveat, however. That same UC Davis study points out that if carpooling doesn’t take off as expected, greenhouse gases could go up in the meantime.  The main concern is that driverless cars could increase our tolerance for distance traveled, which significantly increases pollution. If people are willing to travel further away, then housing developments may flourish in remote areas. That’s a win for affordable housing, but a loss for our eco-footprint.

Also troubling is the possibility of “zombie” cars on the road — that is, cars driving without passengers, doing things like picking up groceries and running errands. And unless a pricing system is in place which accounts for negative externalities (like carbon taxes or other fuel consumption charges), passengers may not be inclined to travel with others or rideshare.  

Chip manufacturers are aware of this issue. Nvidia, just announced an artificial intelligence chip that they say “crams $10,000 worth of power into a tiny box that costs just $1,299.” What would otherwise need 1,000 watts to run trillions of operations now only uses 30 watts, and the brightest minds in the world are already working on new technology to get to “reversible” or “zero-energy” computing.

Like all innovations, there are side effects – both positive and negative.

For example, we’ve seen tremendous benefits from the automobile, as well as its unintended side effects. Cars have made traveling remarkably convenient, but they also spurred urban sprawl and caused pollution.

But nonetheless, fewer people have been getting their drivers licenses since 1983. One of the main the reasons for this is — you guessed it — the cost of owning and maintaining a car when you can easily get rides from others. It’s not difficult to fathom how self-driving cars can spur that trend exponentially. To get there, however, we need proper oversight, and the onus is ultimately on us as consumers to make smart choices for ourselves and our planet.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how IoT, blockchain, telematics, and machine learning will impact the auto insurance industry. He draws on years of experience to write about the future of the car insurance industry, from new driving habits to autonomous vehicles. You can learn more about Esurance’s auto insurance options on their website.


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