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


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.

Compare Lifetime Cost Savings When Considering an Electric Vehicle

Interior BMW Electric Vehicle

Photo by Pixabay/rezaqorbani

Electric, plug-in vehicles, or EVs for short, are a rapidly growing vehicle option for any household. In many ways operating more like our handheld rechargeable devices than an internal-combustion vehicle, EVs have the potential to revolutionize our everyday commute and fuel consumption habits.

With all major tech giants, including Google, Tesla, Uber, and even Sony investing in electric vehicle models or infrastructure, the EV future is appears closer with each passing month. Here we recount several of the most heralded benefits for consumers considering switching to an electric vehicle.

EVs can be affordable investments. Believe it or not, but electric cars might just be a cheaper option in the long run if you’re looking to buy a new car. With rapid advancements in technology, electric cars are no longer as expensive as they used to be, and the price is predicted to go lower in the future, as more and more rival competitors entering the market.

For example, according to a research report by Cox Automotive, the EV median prices declined by 13.4% in 2019 compared to the overall median price increase of 2% for vehicles in the U.S.  According to some other studies, electric cars will reach the price parity with gas and diesel cars within 8 years.

Besides that, just like for diesel or gasoline cars, you can choose from a wide range of models and brands. This way, you can pick one that fits your budget. As electric cars require low maintenance and have a longer lifespan than gas and diesel cars (see below), they can prove to be a better longer-term investment despite sometimes higher upfront cost.

Low maintenance. Even if you feel that the price of an electric car is more or less the same as diesel and petrol cars, there’s one advantage you won’t find in the latter category. Electric cars are cheaper to run and maintain as compared to diesel and petrol cars. According to Energy.gov, the cost of driving an EV the same distance compared to gasoline vehicle is less than half: USD $1.17 compared to 2.57 average.

First, a basic electric car consists of minimal components, namely, the inverter, the charger, and the motor. Fewer moving parts means less wear and tear on the motor. You’ll be saving a lot on repairs and regular servicing.

Second, after you’ve invested in an electric car, you can be completely concern-free about fuel. For most locations, electricity is much cheaper than petrol or diesel, which means you’ll cut out on fuel expenses. Keep in mind that the cost of electricity varies based on the state you are driving in. For example, in Arkansas, the difference in cost is $0.88 electricity equivalent to a gallon of gasoline, while in Massachusetts, the figure is $1.93 USD. [Data source Energy.gov]

If you want to compare cost per charge for different regions, here is a quick comparison:

Rhode Island: $0.23 per kWh

Washington DC: <$0.10 per kWh (benefits of hydropower)

California: $0.20 per kWh

Oregon: $0.10 per kWh

Sustainability. The greener aspect of driving electric vehicles is undeniable. Perhaps most importantly, EVs can reduce harmful carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Still, manufacturing electric vehicles can make stride to become more efficient and lower lifecycle emissions. Studies have shown that the process for manufacturing electric vehicles is comparably as harmful as producing equivalent gas-powered vehicles. Manufacturing electric vehicles requires significant consumption of energy.

Electric vehicle batteries are much larger than those used in gas-powered cars. These batteries using in electric vehicles feature a different chemistry as well, lithium-ion batteries, like those found in cellphones and laptops. With these batteries comes the significant extraction and refinement of metals like lithium, nickel, and cobalt. Lithium-ion batteries are much harder to recycle.

You might have heard about the long tailpipe theory and probably believe that the pollution electric cars prevent is offset by the dirty electricity from the power plants charging the EVs relies on. These are important considerations and very dependent on your local grid. But even if all the pollution from electric power plants is compared to the emissions from combustion engines, the former is less for most regions.

Enhanced performance. Yes, another benefit of electric vehicles is that they can perform better than petrol or diesel cars. Many drivers consider electric engines more responsive, providing improved acceleration, torque, and power. What’s more, you can control an electric vehicle easily, as their center of gravity is concentrated in one single battery located at the chassis. A great example of this is the balanced, prompt acceleration of the Tesla Roadster. Nevertheless, combustion engines do work well when you’re talking high-speed sprints on long tracks. But, you’re not likely to take your car on the racetrack.

Fossil fuel independence. With electric cars, you’ll never have to stop at a gasoline fuel station again! Think about it this way: How long is your car parked idly each day? If you count your work hours along with family time at night, your car stays parked for more than twelve hours each day. Now, if you have an electric car, you can leave it to get charged until you need to use it again the next day. You can also recharge your cars during work hours for your trip back home. You can easily forget the long gas-station queues and the extra time spent every day.

All you need to do is install an all-weather charging port inside or outside your garage and connect your car to it. It works the same way as charging your smartphone. Consider EV chargers for your home. While it usually takes eight to 10 hours for an electric vehicle to get fully charged, you can also get high-speed chargers, which can get your car ready in about an hour as well.

Summing it all up, it’s evident that electric vehicles are the way of the future. Not only do they benefit the environment, but they also give you a faster and more accessible driving experience as well. The next time you think about purchasing an automobile, compare the benefits and convenience of electric vehicles to the high power range of combustion engines before you decide what’s best for you

Kyle Baker is the owner of sustainable technology blog Green Coast, where he covers renewable energy, electric vehicles, and seeks to simplify discussions on sustainability. Connect with Kyle via Green Coast on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Build a Bicycle Cargo Trailer

This article originally appeared on Instructables and is posted with permission from the author. 

Bicycle cargo trailer 

Have you ever wanted to take something extra with you when you ride your bike, but didn't know how you could get it on the bike and still be able to ride? I have, and believe me one of my favorite challenges about bike riding is figuring out how to strap anything from a tennis racket to a load of firewood to a bike. There is something about that moment when you wrap that bungee cord around your item just right, pull on it until your fingers hurt, and get it to hook on. You step back and think to yourself, "This is rigged but it just might stay on."

In my effort to carry more things with my bike, I decided to build a cargo trailer. It wasn't going to be a typical trailer, though. I wanted something that was heavy-duty, maybe something that could handle most household appliances. I got started just like with every other good homemade bicycle cargo trailer — with a pair of garbage-picked wheels and a set of tires that were given to me for free.

Here is a quick rundown of the main features of the cargo bike trailer:

  • Large 28-by-41-inch deck
  • Mounts to any bike rack with a quick-release ball joint
  • 1-inch square steel tube frame can accommodate up to 700-centimeter/29-inch wheels and tires
  • 100-millimeter dropout spacing to allow for most bicycle front wheels
  • Space for toolbox with tools, straps, and bungee cords
  • Adjustable pulling arm to allow mounting to any bike

My main motivation for building this DIY cargo bike came from many bike-move videos and blog posts on this topic. A bike move is just what it sounds like — moving to a new house using only bikes for transportation and hauling. This requires cargo bikes, bike trailers and the blank stares of people as you ride past with a massive load of stuff on your bike. 

You're probably wondering, "How much can I really tow with a bike?" Well, the company Bikes At Work sells bicycle cargo trailers and has some great references on hauling large items by bike. Check out How Much Weight Can a Bicycle Carry? for a calculator on towing weight. It states that "Most people can comfortably pull 300 pounds (137 kilograms) with a typical mountain bike and cargo trailer." I have not purchased anything from this company but, from the info they give and the pictures of their trailers in action, I believe they sell a good product, although a little pricey.

So, now that you see the potential behind a simple DIY cargo bike trailer, let's build one!

NOTE: To use this bicycle cargo trailer you must have a bike rack. 

Step 1: Assemble the Tools, Materials and Plans

Here is a list of the tools and materials you will need to build this bicycle cargo trailer.

Tools 

    A.  4.5-inch angle grinder with cutoff, grinding and sanding discs
    B.  Drill press with vice or c-clamp (not absolutely needed but makes drilling steel much easier)
    C.  Drill bits, sizes 1/4-inch, 5/16-inch and 3/8-inch
    D.  3/8-inch No. 16 tap
    E.  Center punch
    F.  Hammer
    G.  Welder (I am currently using the 90-amp flux core welder)
    H.  Welding gloves and helmet
    I.  Tape measure
    J.  Permanent marker

Materials 

    A.  1-inch square tube steel (I got most of the steel for this trailer from an old BBQ grill and a bench-press stand)
    B.  2-by-3/16-inch steel flat bar, 1 foot long
    C.  1-by-3/16-inch steel flat bar, 1 foot long
    D.  3/8-inch No. 24 threaded bolt rod, 1 1/2-inch long (fine thread size; could come from an old bike axle or you can just cut off the head of a right-sized bolt)
    E.  Two 3/8-inch No. 24 nuts (might also be able to use bike axle nuts)
    F.  Four 1/4-inch No. 20 2-inch long bolts with nuts and washers
    G.  Two 3/8-inch No. 16 1.5" long bolts with nuts and washers
    H.  Four 5/16-inch No. 18 eye bolts with nuts and washers
    I.    28-by-41-inch piece of 3/4-inch MDF (for the deck of the trailer; you can use whatever material you want)
    J.  Quick disconnect ball linkage (McMaster part No. 6058K34)
    K.  Two bike wheels and tires (I used 20-inch wheels, but the frame design allows for larger 700-centimeter wheels)

Aside from the quick disconnect linkage, all items can be found at a local hardware store or picked from old bike parts. If you're going to purchase the steel, I would highly recommend finding a local steel supplier by searching the Yellow Pages. If that's not an option for you, I would recommend Speedy Metals for fair prices and reasonable shipping. 

If you're lacking some of the tools I mentioned, borrow them from an uncle, check out yard sales or search online classifies. These tools are pretty common and should be easy to find at low cost. For the welder, a MIG or wire welder is best for this project. It is completely doable with a stick or even a TIG welder, so just use what you have. If you have never welded before, the 90-amp flux core welder I'm using is enough to learn with, and at roughly $100 it's by far the best bang for your buck.

Open my Trailer Drawings PDF to view detailed drawings of the frame and the pulling arm, both of which are explained in the next few steps.

DropoutsStep 2: Make the Dropouts

The dropouts are easy to make from 2-by-3/16-inch flat bar.  First, put a cutoff wheel on your angle grinder. Cutoff  wheels for this type of grinder are roughly 1/8-inch thick. If the wheel you have is thicker than that, it's not a cutoff wheel but a grinding wheel. Now put on your safety glasses; this is a must because your grinder will be throwing sparks everywhere. Mark off a 3-inch section of the bar and cut it off. I found that a good practice for cutting with a grinder like this is to first make a shallow cut right along your line. This will act as a guide when you make the rest of the cut. Repeat three more times to get four 3-inch long pieces.

Now get out the ruler and permanent marker and mark a point in the middle of each piece 3/4-inch from the end. Then grab your hammer and center punch, put the punch on your mark and hit it with the hammer. Don't miss! Next put one of the pieces in your vice and center up the center-punch mark with the drill bit in your drill press. Clamp everything down tight and put a dab of motor oil on the drill bit. This is not the ideal coolant method, but it will keep your bit from going dull. Set your drill press to the lowest speed possible, less than 500 rpm if you can. Then drill the hole and repeat for the next three parts.

Next, make a few marks from the edges of each hole to the edge of the part. Then get out your grinder and cut from the hole to the edge of the plate. When you're finished with all four dropouts, you'll be a cutoff wheel master and ready to tackle the rest of the project.

Trailer frameStep 3: Weld the Frame

The frame is built from 1-by-1-inch square steel tubing. I recycled this material from an old BBQ grill and a bench press stand.  The tubing already had the nice right-angle curved bends so all I had to do was cut and weld it together. The main box of the frame came from the legs of the bench press, which were butt-welded together. The two outer parts of the frame came from the BBQ grill and were also butt-welded together. The interior parts of the frame were straight sections of tubing and were welded in after finishing the perimeter of the frame.

If you don't have the luxury of steel tubing lying around, you can buy tubing from a local steel supplier. You don't need bends at the corners but they do make the trailer look nice. If you have straight tubing, you could bend it yourself with a Woodward Fab Pipe/Tube Bender.

Step 4: Fabricate the Pulling Arm

Pulling armThe pulling arm attaches the trailer to your bicycle rack. The arm is made from 1-by-1-inch steel tubing and 1-by-3/16-inch steel flat bar. The pulling arm attaches to the upright tube on the frame with two pinch bolts. The top pinch bolt goes through the two clamping plates with the 3/8-inch holes and around the upright tube. This clamps firming on to the upright tube. The bottom pinch bolt tightens against the upright tube and uses the tapped hole. This keeps the arm from twisting on the upright tube. I chose to attach the pulling arm in this way because I wanted to be able to adjust the height of the arm in order to keep the trailer platform level. By moving the arm up and down, I can adjust for different bike rack heights, so the trailer can always be level on any bike it's attached to. 

Step 5: Build the Trailer Platform

Close-up of platform boltI choose to use medium-density fiberboard (MDF) for the platform of the trailer, but realize now that it might not have been the best choice. A treated plywood may be better because it can get wet and not fall apart like MDF. You can use whatever sheet material you have, but something as rigid as 3/4-inch MDF or plywood is preferable. Making this platform is pretty simple. The dimensions are 28-by-41 inches. I cut a piece using a circular saw, then I clamped it to the trailer and marked the radius of the corners and cut those out with a jigsaw. I clamped it again to the frame and marked the locations of the mounting holes in the frame. I drilled the holes with a 1/4-inch bit, for the 1/4-inch bolts I called for in the parts list. I also wanted to make sure the platform was not obstructed by the heads of the bolts, so I marked out a section around the holes and used my router to cut out a pocket.

Quick disconnect ball linkageStep 6: Prepare Your  Bike Rack

You need a rack to mount and pull this bicycle cargo trailer. The frame design and pulling arm are centered around this type of setup. The trailer is connected to the bike rack with a quick disconnect ball linkage (McMaster part No. 6058K34). This linkage has a ball much like the towing hitch used on cars and trucks, but much smaller. The other part of the linkage that attaches to the trailer has a spring release so it is very easy to detach the trailer from the bike, but still securely captures the ball when pulling. To mount this to your bike rack, just drill a 3/8-inch hole in the platform. I suggest putting the hole in the center of the rack and forward of the rear axle. Most racks have a crossbar underneath the platform—don't drill though this, but put your hole near it for added stiffness. Also, don't drill through your tire! It's probably best to either remove the rack or your rear wheel from your bike when drilling. Mount the ball to the bike rack with a 3/8-inch No. 24 nut, and you're done.

Step 7: Accessorize

I made the frame a little longer in the front so I would have a spot to mount a toolbox secured with a bungee cord. Here are the items I carry in the toolbox:

    A.  1/2-inch and 9/16-inch wrenches (for the bolts and nuts used on the trailer)
    B.  Bungee cords of various lengths and styles
    C.  Set of ratchet straps (for holding the load)
    D.  Roll of tape (always seems to help when securing the load)

Finished bicycle cargo trailer, hauling a barbeque grill.Step 8: Start Towing

Just hook the trailer to your bike and load it up. I have found this bicycle cargo trailer to be very maneuverable. I can ride in slow tight circles with the trailer attached and it just spins in place behind me. It would be very difficult to jackknife with this cargo bike trailer, but I'm not going to say it can't be done. 

The first thing I hauled with the trailer was a BBQ grill. I rode 7 miles on fairly flat roads with moderate traffic and only had one issue: The garbage-picked wheels really needed to be trued because there was a harsh vibration around 12 mph. This was an easy fix.

If you've been thinking about building a bicycle cargo trailer, stop thinking and just do it. You will be surprised at how useful your bike will become. If you are moving, you should definitely consider a bike move. The best part about a cargo bike trailer is the looks you get from people as you ride by. Everyone assumes that pulling things with a bike is impossible, or at least impractical, but their minds will be blown when you cruise past. Have fun, ride safe and wear a helmet.  

 

New Electric Bicycle: 40-mile Range, Reasonable Price Tag

Eneloop bike3 

Electric bicycles have long been popular in other areas of the world (most notably in Asia), though they have yet to really catch on in the United States. But with consumers becoming more concerned about the financial and environmental costs of gasoline-fueled vehicles, the electric bike could soon see a surge in sales. One bike in particular has been generating a buzz lately, the Sanyo eneloop (see photo, left).

The Japanese electronics company Sanyo introduced its entry to the U.S. pedal-assisted electric bicycle market in September. The eneloop has a lot of good things going for it: It has a 1:2 pedal-to-motor ratio, it partially recharges itself during use and, refreshingly, it actually looks like a normal bicycle. But best of all, the eneloop can get as much as 40 miles out of a single three-and-a-half-hour charge, enough to cover the average daily commute. Depending on your situation, the eneloop could easily replace your car as a daily vehicle, getting you to work without using a drop of gasoline.

The bike operates in three modes. In auto mode, the eneloop adjusts the level of electric assistance based on riding conditions. Power-up mode increases the output of the motor, and is ideal for the uphill trek. In two-wheel-drive mode, the motor powers the front wheel while the rider powers the back wheel, resulting in superior stability.

When engaged, the eneloop’s “loop charging” system allows the bike to regenerate power while braking and coasting downhill. Depressing the rear brake turns the motor into a generator that charges the bike’s battery, prolonging battery life.

The eneloop is available at independent bicycle dealers and at some west-coast Best Buy locations. Sanyo sells the eneloop directly from its website for $2,499, though it can be found at other retailers for $2,299.

Check out the video below to see the eneloop in action.



Photo courtesy of Sanyo North America Corp. 

Electric Airplanes and the Decarbonization of Flight

Pipistrel ALPHA Electro on display at EAA AirVenture

While the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) AirVenture, featured numerous electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) prototypes and concepts in their Aviation Gateway Park, on the main Celebration Way concourse, electrified flight was on display. The AirVenture is one of the largest fly-in aviation events in the world, held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, every July.

Along with photographer John Ivanko, I’ve been covering the steady electrification of mobility, first at the Consumer Electronic Show where Bell revealed its Nexus eVTOL “air taxi” and Harley Davidson launched their first electric motorcycle, and now at the EAA AirVenture, with new electric aircraft.

Slovenia-based Pipistrel is leading the way in electrified flight. Their booth near the main EAA AirVenture admission gates was well before the luxury private jet displays or Boeing Plaza where some of the most expensive, powerful and fast aircraft were being shown off.

 Pipistrel ALPHA Electro Flying

Pipistrel produces two electrically-powered production aircraft, the ALPHA Electro, designed as a light sport aircraft, and the Taurus Electro G2, the first electric 2-seat self-launch glider. They’re also busy at work on their Pipistrel 801, an eVTOL aircraft. A leader in innovative aircraft design and manufacturing, Pipistrel has over a dozen airframes in production and has received numerous awards for flight efficiency, including the NASA CAFE Challenge which Pipistrel won three times in a row.

First released in 2017, the Pipistrel ALPHA Electro is a 2-seat electric light sport aircraft tailored to the needs of flight schools or for recreational pilots. The single prop airplane with a 60-kW motor takes advantage of a short take-off distance, powerful 1,000+ feet per minute climb, and endurance of a one hour flight time, plus reserve. As a trainer, the Pipistrel ALPHA Electro is more expensive than the gasoline-powered version, but it can be operated for less than half of the gasoline equivalent. According to Pipistrel, it costs as little as $3/hour for electricity to operate the aircraft and takes about 1 hour to recharge the lithium ion battery with a 20 kW charger.

Pipistrel’s commitment to the environment with their electric aircraft, however, crosses over to their manufacture as well. At the moment, mostly composite parts including fuselages and wings, prototyping and the electric program that includes the Alpha Electro and Taurus Electro G2, are made in the 25,833-square-foot manufacturing facility that features a 107 kW solar electric array that, combined with a co-generating unit, completely meets the electricity needs of the factory. The facility also has a geothermal heating and cooling system, super-efficient insulation, and an intelligent light system.

 Pipistrel ALPHA Electro battery

“Our green aircraft are built in a green, one hundred-percent energy self-sufficient and emission-free building,” says Taja Boscarol, Public Relations Manager, based at the facility in Slovenia. “Regardless of the higher costs of construction and planning of such buildings, Pipistrel believes that it will soon become evident that such energy self-sufficient constructions are indeed more cost effective over longer periods of time.”

As the aircraft industry adapts to the realities of climate change and need to curb emissions, it’s likely that hybrid airplanes may also ease the transition in a similar way that hybrid vehicles helped transform the automobile industry.

According to Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker, electric hybrid retrofits of existing aircraft will lead the way to the decarbonization of aviation. We caught his presentation about the emerging electric aviation market at EAA AirVenture’s Aviation Gateway Park. This retrofits approach will address two major problems in commercial aviation: high operating costs and the environmental impact of carbon dioxide emissions and other emissions. It may also reduce noise levels at airports located in major metropolitan areas.

The Ampaire Electric EEL is a twin-engine Cessna 337 Skymaster modified to fly with one conventional combustion engine and one electric motor. The largest hybrid-electric aircraft flying today, the Electric EEL will enter flight trials on commercial routes with Mokulele Airlines in Hawaii later this year. FAA certification of the Electric EEL is projected for 2021.

“The most practical way to achieve an all-electric future is to jump start the market with a partially-electric present,” said Noertker. “Ampaire is currently demonstrating the ability to cut fuel consumption by fifty-percent and reduce emissions accordingly. The next may be a hybrid or fully electric retrofit of a nine- to 19-passenger commuter/cargo aircraft. As batteries and powertrains mature, we will shift our focus to clean-sheet designs such as our nine-passenger, zero-emissions Tailwind concept.” As a leader in aircraft electrification, Ampaire’s vision is to make flights more accessible to more people from more airports by providing electric aircraft that are clean, quiet, and less costly to operate.

Aviation is estimated to account for roughly three percent of global greenhouse emissions, not including the impact of military aircraft. A recent study by UBS Investment Bank found that 23-percent of the respondents in Germany and the USA cited flying as an activity with a negative impact on the environment, second to driving a personal vehicle. As a result, UBS forecasts a $178 billion market for electric hybrid aviation as more customers demand the airline industry to be more sustainable and provide green options.

Liam Kivirist is a tech writer, drone pilot, computer hardware geek, fledgling programmer and freelance web developer. Based on a small organic farm in rural southwestern Wisconsin, Liam marries his deeply rooted love of the outdoors, food, and camping with his passion for technology. Connect with Liam on Twitter, at TechSocket.net and www.liamkivirist.com.


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Electrified Flight Takes Off with Opener’s BlackFly at EAA AirVenture

Opener BlackFly on Display at EAA Urban Air Mobility and Innovation Showcase

The AirVenture is an annual aviation extravaganza that the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) bills as “the world’s greatest aviation celebration,” held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Well more than half a million pilots, aviation enthusiasts and aerial thrill seekers land at Wittman Regional Airport. Nearly every inch of green space is filled with more than 10,000 airplanes, jets, ultralights and hot air balloons at this fly-in convention. If it can fly, it’s here.

I explored the massive event with photographer, John D. Ivanko, searching the latest in aviation trends. We couldn’t miss the Urban Air Mobility and Innovation Showcase in EAA’s Aviation Gateway Park near the front gate. As more people live in the city and more time is spent commuting in increasingly congested urban areas, technology is rapidly changing to allow for both electric-vertical-take-off-and-landing (known as eVTOL) and personal-aerial-vehicles (PAVs), fostering breakthroughs in urban aerial mobility (UAM).

History was made in October, 2011, with the first flight of the BlackFly, a fixed-wing, all-electric VTOL ultralight aircraft piloted by a human passenger. The electrification of transportation may have started on the ground with Tesla leading the way; now this electrification moving to transform air travel.

While there were many concepts and prototypes on display in the Urban Air Mobility and Innovation Showcase, like Embraer’s EmbraerX and Airbus by A-3 Group’s Vahana, Opener’s BlackFly seemed to be the first electric VTOL we’ll likely see plying the skies above our heads. Capable of traveling distances of up to 35 miles (limited to 25 miles in USA) and at speeds of up to 75 miles-per-hour (limited to 62-mph in USA), the BlackFly’s innovative design earned its Founder and CEO, Marcus Leng, the EAA’s 2019 August Raspet Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the advancement of light aircraft design.

“We believe that the future of transportation is electric, both on the ground and in the air,” says Ben Diachun, President of Opener. “Clean and efficient, electric propulsion is the system best capable of producing the power and fidelity-of-control for practical eVTOL PAVs.” For those rural residents who commute into small towns or cities for work or projects, eVTOLs may significantly reduce commute times, assuming such places are within the range of the aircraft. The BlackFly can be launched from a small patch of grass or even a pond or lake, since it also floats. If you make enough of your own power with a solar electric system like we do and could recharge an eVTOL with solar power, the BlackFly can truly be a sustainable mobility option.

According to Opener, the BlackFly will be available in late 2019 in the Silicon Valley, California area, be simple to master, and requires no formal licensing or special skills to operate safely in the US. The launch of a commercially available vehicle will be based on maintaining quality, adhering to safety standards and other production variables. That said, more than 2,300 test flights have been logged with the aerial vehicle traversing more than 23,000 miles.

Opener BlackFly on Display at EAA AirVenture

“We believe that eVTOL PAVs will be the future of urban transportation systems,” adds Diachun. “They will reduce and eventually eliminate the inefficiencies of our current gridlocked transportation networks. Operating from small areas, BlackFly is clean, quiet and efficient and has the ability to transport individual commuters quickly throughout an urban and rural landscape.”

Opener’s zero-emission, single-seat BlackFly eVTOL has many features commonly found on consumer drones, like position hold where the aircraft can hover in place, plus take-off and landing assist. At 245 Watt hours per mile, the BlackFly is more energy efficient than an electric car (about 270 Watt hours per mile) and significantly more efficient than a gasoline-powered vehicle (about 1,233 Watt hours per mile). Recharge time is a little over an hour at 240 Volt / 50 A. It has numerous safety features including triple-modular redundancy, 8 fixed propulsion units, 4 redundant elevon pairs and a ballistic parachute.

“EAA AirVenture is known for not only saluting the remarkable legacy of flight and its innovators, but also where the newest concepts are unveiled to the world,” said Dave Chaimson, EAA’s vice president of marketing and business development. Four major forums were hosted on new flight technology at EAA’s Aviation Gateway Park addressing such timely topics as aerial delivery systems (i.e., package delivery by electric drones), air taxis and ambulances, personal aerial vehicles, and noise issues in urban areas.

The first-generation BlackFly will be permanently on display at the EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh. “BlackFly is an exciting addition to the Museum’s collection of historic aircraft,” says Rick Larsen, vice president of Chapters, Communities and Museum at EAA, in a release. “The Opener team tackled complicated problems, innovated modern battery and motor technologies, and showed the world that eVTOL is real. It is an honor to showcase this pioneering electric personal aerial vehicle.”

“BlackFly already has full autonomous flight capability,” says Diachun, looking to the future. “Much of our testing is conducted using this feature. Releasing this capability to the general public, however, will require us to add additional safeguards to ensure the feature is used in a legally responsible way.” This autonomous feature comes as no surprise, since all-electric Tesla vehicles have been designed for autonomous transportation from the start and are the safest cars on the road today.

Liam Kiviristis a tech writer, drone pilot, computer hardware geek, fledgling programmer and freelance web developer. Based on a small organic farm in rural southwestern Wisconsin, Liam marries his deeply rooted love of the outdoors, food, and camping with his passion for technology. Connect with Liam onTwitter, atTechSocket.netandwww.liamkivirist.com.


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.

Save Money, Plug-in with a Toyota Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle

Toyota Prius Prime Recharging in Door County Wisconsin

We now go to gas stations to wash our windows, not fill up the fuel tank. With mpg ranging from 59 mpg to 89 mpg, depending on how much local versus long-range driving we’re doing and the temperature outside, our 2017 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in electric hybrid vehicle has transformed how we move about, saving us money and reducing our environmental impact.

The Toyota Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that, with our first-hand experience of driving it on the open roads for more than 25,000 miles, has demonstrated that driving green is well within the financial reach of many people. The Prius Prime has both an 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery and a 1.8 Liter 4-cyclinder engine, capable of driving all-electric in EV mode for the first 23 to 32 miles (our experience, depending on the season), then switches to the regular hybrid-electric-motor-and-gasoline-engine hybrid mode for the duration of the travel – eliminating any so-called range anxiety experienced by people driving all-electric vehicles. We never have to worry about running out of power and getting stuck on the side of the road as long as we keep our gasoline tank full.

Previous Experience with a Toyota Prius Hybrid Vehicle

For several years, my wife, Lisa Kivirist, and I enjoyed driving the hybrid Toyota Prius 2 (models from both 2015 and 2016). Vehicles, for us, are necessary to get around in our rural area, to various speaking events related to our books, or for our journalism or consulting work off farm. The Prius 2 base model more than satisfied our needs for a family of three and, more importantly, had enough space in the hatchback to fit two or three boxes of books and presentation materials, including a standard large display board. While we are a 3-person household, we only have one car, so it had to serve many needs. Storage space demands ruled out most other hybrid or all-electric vehicles. We also found the interior had plenty of passenger room.

With our Prius 2 hybrid, we were averaging about 45 to 55 mpg, but we had to drive with a mind to be conservative in order to be energy efficient. If you have a lead foot, don’t bother with a Prius. You need to go slow, both on acceleration and braking in order to take advantage of regenerative breaking. It was great on the open road, which is most of our driving given our farming homestead location with lots of open roads. The Prius is great in the city and suburbs, too, since the engine turns off at traffic lights and we often find ourselves going for miles on electric in stop-and-go traffic when in the city. Mountains are tougher, however, as we discovered when attending the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle: Toyota Prius Prime

Now, with our new plug-in electric hybrid 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Plus, we get 59 to 89 mpg, depending on how many long-range trips we take and what time of year. If on a given week, we’re doing mostly local driving, like a round trip into Monroe, Wisconsin, to mail out a book, we can complete the entire 25-mile round trip entirely on electric power. When we return home, we plug-in and recharge the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) using a ClipperCreek Level 2 (240 volt) Universal charging station that’s in our garage. As one would expect, the bitter cold winters of Wisconsin and the use of the vehicle heater reduces our all-electric battery range considerably, from 32 miles down to 23.

That said, with our plug-in hybrid Prius Prime, we’re constantly on the lookout for places to plug-in while we get our groceries at a food cooperative, grab a bite to eat, or spend the night at a B&B. The locations are becoming easier to find thanks to apps like PlugShare and ChargePoint. On a trip to Door County Wisconsin, there were plenty of free places to recharge our Prius Prime while we caught a sunset or walked around town, like when we plugged in at Bailey’s Harbor. The tourism industry in Door County made it a priority to offer numerous electric vehicle charging stations throughout the county, both universal chargers like we needed for the Prius Prime, but also Tesla chargers only able to be used for Tesla vehicles.

We’ve also ferret out and get permission to use standard 120-volt outlets at churches, YMCAs, hospitals and hotels; while the charging takes longer than the Level 2 chargers, free is free. Our annual fuel cost to operate our only vehicle was cut in half after switching from a hybrid Prius to the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime. Due to the growth of plug-in electric vehicles on the road, a growing number of Level 2 charging stations may have fees associated with their use. In our case, we can just skip those with fees because we don’t require electric recharging to be able to get around thanks to the plug-in and hybrid configuration of the Prius Prime.

If you use your personal vehicle for business purposes, according to the IRS, the business can reimburse the vehicle owner at an IRS rate for the business use of the personally owned vehicle. This IRS rate changes from year to year. In 2018, this rate was 54.5-cents a mile. So, if we use the car for business purposes for 10,000 total miles, that’s a reimbursement check of $5,450. Since we drive a 2017 Prius Prime, in reality, we were actually reimbursed for more than the vehicle cost to operate that year, especially given the lower gasoline needs. Since we purchased the 2017 Prius Prime new, we’ve had zero maintenance costs, since it’s covered under Toyota’s two-year or 25,000-mile warranty and maintenance coverage plan. Of course, we keep a written mileage log for the IRS.

When looking at the cost of the Prius Prime, it’s important to keep all the above considerations and realities in mind, plus your own needs on the homestead or farm. A Prius Prime cannot be used to pull a trailer or haul products to market. Just maybe, you can get away with adding a bicycle rack. But the Prius Prime can be the ultimate vehicle if you live like we do, in the middle of nowhere, and produce your own power on site. If you can quickly find a Prius Prime, you may qualify for a federal tax credit. Unfortunately, Prius Primes can be hard to find on dealership lots. We purchased ours on our first phone call to the dealer.

Using a Level 2 ClipperCreek Home Charging Station

Our Prius Prime is recharged at home with a ClipperCreek universal Level 2 connector. Since a 10.8 kW solar electric system completely meets the electricity needs of the farm, our Prius Prime is recharged with renewable energy, not utility energy often generated from burning coal or natural gas. A ClipperCreek home electric charging station can run about $500 to $900, plus $1,500 to $2,000 for the installation by an electrician. But a growing number of electric utilities may offer significant funding toward the unit or its installation.

As a side note, our ClipperCreek was secured by our business, Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast and Farm, as part of the Tesla Destination Charging program, which also included a Tesla Wall Connector. Guests staying at the B&B can recharge their electric vehicles for free, using the renewable energy generated on site by our solar electric systems. If you’re a business or organization, consider participating in this amazing program since Tesla pays for the connectors if your location is selected.

A Level 2 charging station is not required, however, to recharge our Prius Prime.  We could have used the standard 120-volt outlet. The result is the same, a recharged battery. It takes about 5.5 hours with a standard household outlet (Level 1), versus about 2.5 hours with a Level 2 charging station. Either way, electricity is much less expensive than gasoline, especially of you produce your own power with a solar electric system like we do.

As we write about in our Rural Renaissance book, or in our Mother Earth News articles on renewable energy and strategies for self-reliant living, everything is connected to everything else. When started our sustainable living journey 22 years ago, our goal was to go fossil fuel-free and work and live in a way that was “carbon-negative,” in essence sequestering more carbon than we generated annually by our operations and lifestyle. The Toyota Prius Prime is a major step in helping us achieve this goal by solving our transportation challenge.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8-kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs. Read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Save Money, Plug-in with a Toyota Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle


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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