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


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


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Living Without A Car

car crash 

Image: Creative Commons

It all started, like so many things in life, with an accident.

My husband stopped at a traffic light, and an irresponsible driver who wasn’t keeping their distance slammed into him headfirst. Thank goodness none of the children were in the back seat at the moment, and no one was hurt.

The car, however, was pronounced dead and hauled away to a junk yard. Our only consolation was that we’d postponed some expensive repairs that would have been totally wasted.

All of a sudden, for the first time in many years, we found ourselves without our own set of wheels, and without the prospects of getting enough from the insurance company to enable us to buy another car.

At first, we felt stranded. We were so used to the convenience of having a car that for the first day or two we put off any errands, waiting for I don’t know what to happen. Then the shock wore off, and we realized that, in fact, we should be grateful that this happened here, in an area where we have almost everything we need within walking distance, and abundant and convenient public transportation for all the rest. Had we lost our car before we moved here, we would have been marooned.

There are definitely some drawbacks to this situation. Spontaneous trips are a thing of the past. Any traveling as a family would be a complex logistic project of hauling four kids, a stroller, a diaper bag and a stash of snacks on board of a bus or train. Say goodbye to comparing prices and buying in bulk, too – we are now limited to two or three grocery stores in the area and to as much as we can carry in a backpack or shopping trolley (unless the savings offset the price of delivery).

But are there any advantages? You betcha! I didn’t realize not having a car could be so liberating:

Cost. This one’s pretty much a no-brainer. Not having a car saves all the money that would have been spent on gas, maintenance and insurance. Bus fares are just a fraction of that.

No more worrying about parking. Parking in busy city areas can be scarce and expensive. Using public transportation eliminates these worries.

A slower life and cutting indirect costs. The more you are out and about, the more you spend – on gas, eating out, and impulse purchases of items that catch your eye. Being more at home and in our neighborhood gives our days a slower, healthier pace, and enables us to get to know our local community better.

A gentler tread. Not having a car means a smaller footprint upon this earth. It doesn’t get more eco-friendly than that.

I’m not saying we’re dead set against ever buying another car, but it’s nice to know how well we can manage without one. So far, I’m liking this involuntary experiment!

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna'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.

The Eco Side Effects of Car Accidents

Car accidents 1

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

EV efficiency innovations

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

Green innovations 1

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.

Green innovations 2

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.

Green innovations 3

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

electric driving 1

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.







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