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

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.

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.

Benefits of Electric-Run School Buses

school busCurrently, there are about 480,000 school buses operating today in the United States. These school buses alone contribute 5.3 million tons of climate-altering pollution every year. If schools in America were to swap out all of these school buses with electric-powered replacements, it would not only have numerous environmental benefits, but it would also have many health benefits for the students who take those school buses every week.

A new report, “Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthy Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air”, from Environment America Research & Policy Center, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, and Frontier Group shows that replacing all school buses in America with an electric-powered model would be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off of the road, saving millions of tons of pollution annually.

Not only do these hundreds of thousands of buses have terrible effects on the environmental, they also have harmful health consequences for the students riding the bus every day. Approximately 95 percent of school buses run on diesel fuel, which is proven to cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions such as asthma.

"Pollution from school buses is harming our children's health and contributing excessively to global warming,” said Andrea McGimsey, Environment America Global Warming Director. "Our research shows that whether they're boarding the bus or on the bus, kids are exposed to toxic air in high concentrations. Electrifying our buses is a common-sense solution for communities across the nation.”

These electric school buses are already available for schools to consider. They are cleaner, healthier, and often cheaper for schools to purchase in place of diesel-fueled buses in the long run. Electric school buses have zero tailpipe emissions, which could help reduce kids’ exposure to toxic fumes on a daily basis.

"When we put our kids on a school bus we rely on these buses for safe transportation,” said Jeff Robinson, director of U.S. PIRG’s transportation program. “We have the technology to avoid these negative repercussions, so why wouldn’t we drive toward a cleaner future?”

This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

New York City Bans Cars in Central Park

central parkAs one of the most visited outdoor spaces in the United States, Central Park is one of the most famous landmarks of New York City. Every year, 40 million people visit the park for its charm and history. The park was originally established in 1857, but did not become popular until it was redesigned at the start of the 20th century.

During this redesign, led by Robert Moses, several roadways were added inside of the park, which helped to popularize the park for Manhattan residents, and made for a shortcut cross the park for drivers and pedestrians alike.

However, beginning June 27 of this year, privately owned automobiles will not be permitted to drive through the roads of Central Park. Though Mayor Bill de Blasio previously banned private automobiles from driving through the northern end of the park in 2015, this new ban will prevent vehicles anywhere in the entire park.

“Our parks are for people, not cars,” de Blasio told the press. “For more than a century, cars have turned parts of the world’s most iconic park into a highway. Today we take it back. We are prioritizing the safety and the health of the millions of parents, children, and visitors who flock to Central Park.”

This ban will not apply to emergency vehicles, nor will it have any impact on vehicles using the four below-grade crosstown routes that were part of its original design.

This has not been the only case of cities restricting cars from urban parks in recent years. Cities such as London, Paris, and several cities in Germany have cracked down on private vehicle access to urban parks, putting time and car-size restrictions in place. Even the efforts to remove cars from Central Park has been underway for over 5 decades, slowly adding more and more restrictions over the years that have led to this complete ban.

The reactions of New Yorkers to this ban have been mixed. Many believe that this new ban will make the park safer and more enjoyable for children and families, while many – particularly cab and Uber drivers – believe that this will hurt their profits. Those who are happy about this change are excited that New York City is taking steps to become a cleaner, healthier, and environmentally friendly city.

This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Green? Exploring the Environmental Impacts

Vehicles Sensors STreet Curb

Photo by Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

It’s no secret that cars are one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas-driven climate change. Given that fact, in the past five years, there’s been a significant push from automakers to make cars more efficient. But during that same time period, there’ve also huge advances made in semi-autonomous and autonomous tech.

This technology gives us a taste of what will come in the future. But while these innovations bring with them substantial safety improvements, how much impact will they have on the amount of energy consumed by cars?

This question is now being studied in earnest. The list of companies who are chasing self-driving dreams has grown from the famous Google SUVs just five years ago. But with many local governments beginning to implement regulations around self-driving cars, car manufacturers few places to test them on real roads.

And until more “real-life” tests can be performed, it will be difficult to gauge how much impact — if any — self-driving cars will have on the environment. However, thanks to several states introducing legislation friendly to self-driving cars, new studies are looking to answer just that.

But First, What Makes a Car Self-Driving?

Self-driving cars (or fully autonomous cars) are more than just vehicles that can keep themselves in a lane or stop with traffic. This technology (known as semi-autonomous) already exists today – Tesla's AutoPilot and Honda Sensing, for example. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) considers this "Partial Automation."

The next phase is "Conditional Automation," where a driver needs to be in the car, but the car does most of the driving on its own. The final phase is "Full Automation," in which vehicles are completely self-driving. No driver presence is required, and the vehicle manages all driving functions.

Future of Mobility Illustration

Photo by BreezyInt/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

Autonomous Vehicles and the Environment

When considering the way self-driving cars will impact the environment, we have to first look at the way they will change driving. The NHTSA estimates that Americans spent almost 7 billion hours stuck in traffic during 2014, a number which has likely only increased.

Self-driving cars use connected technology to manage traffic congestion, reducing or eliminating the time we spend idling in gridlock. The NHTSA also reports that 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error. In addition to saving lives, self-driving cars could reduce the waste byproduct these collisions send to landfills.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), there are several other ways self-driving vehicles could impact the environment.

• Because self-driving cars tend to crash less, vehicles can become much lighter as some older safety technology is removed, potentially reducing energy consumption by as much as 40 percent.

• They also last longer, decreasing the environmental impact of producing a new car.

• Plus, NREL estimates a 12 to 20 percent decrease in vehicle use thanks to increased occupancy.

And self-driving cars are capable of driving much more efficiently than human drivers, which could result in a 10 to 25 percent reduction in energy use (again, according to the NREL).

However, the NREL report also raises some concerns about potential negative environmental impacts. Self-driving cars make it possible for older generations and people with prohibitive disabilities to drive. While improved mobility will open opportunities for these groups, it will also mean more people — and vehicles — will be on the roadways.

Self-driving cars might also mean that people will drive more often and for longer periods of time. Combining these factors could cause a 50 percent increase in usage as well as a significant increase in energy consumption. Highly efficient routing and highway driving will likely increase the average speed at which vehicles travel. Over 50 mph, drag forces on a vehicle cause it to burn more fuel, and the faster the speed, the more energy is used.

Self Driving Semi Illustration

Photo by Chesky/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

Texas Helps Lead the Way with Green Autonomous Vehicles

In 2017, Texas was one of 10 states chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation to be designated a national Automated Vehicle (AV) Proving Ground, allowing researchers and manufacturers an open place to test self-driving vehicles.

This is a big deal because it gives researchers and innovators alike a chance to review impacts automation may have on the environment. In Texas, several universities and organizations have formed a partnership with a focus on studying and proving these effects.

There are already real-world results coming out of these proving grounds. In July 2016, TTI — along with federal and state transportation authorities — released the results of tests with self-driving tech and truck platooning. Using a partially autonomous truck, they were able to determine that this method of transportation reduced fuel consumption by 12 percent.

How, you ask? By maximizing the drafting effect, fuel consumption is lowered. This results in fewer carbon emissions and reduced operating costs. With a highly efficient, fully self-driving truck, truck platooning could have big impacts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption in the long run.

In addition to Texas, nine other locations across the United States were chosen for testing. A proving ground in Pittsburg is being used by companies like Uber. In Michigan, the home of the automobile in North America, a 335-acre proving ground was built to explore and certify self-driving vehicles. There are additional proving grounds in Wisconsin, California, Iowa and Central Florida. Plus, there's a proving ground located at the U.S. Army Aberdeen base with a focus on self-driving military technology.

These spaces provide a varied environment for researchers to study the ways self-driving cars will change the industry and become more environmentally-friendly. Many of the proving grounds are still in their infancy, with testing only just beginning.

Ultimately, the effects may only be clear once self-driving cars become more common and theories like platooning are tested on real streets and highways. Until then, the results of testing at U.S. proving grounds — and others like them around the world — will give us a glimpse at how self-driving cars will impact the environment.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the director of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance, where he is responsible for all initiatives related to product and service innovation. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how technology — including autonomous cars — will impact the insurance industry. He is also a mobile guru, aspiring yogi and mixed martial artist. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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.

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