Taking the lead in low carbon transport innovation
The government has a clear vision of placing the UK at the global forefront of ultra-low carbon transport with vehicle manufacture, development, demonstration, manufacture and use, explains Professor Brian Collins, FREng, Chief Scientific Adviser, DfT and BIS
The impact of climate change on the way in which personal mobility is enabled will change over the next 50 years in ways that are unprecedented in the recent past. Achievement of the sort of targets that are being asked for in all countries for low carbon transport will demand innovation and invention that have not been seen in the industry for many years.
Trucks, ships and aviation will not escape such changes, but the largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions from transport is the personal motor car, so that is where the opportunities for low carbon transport innovation and growth are most likely to occur first.Commercial light vehicles also offer considerable promise due to their short journeys and regular return to depots for charging.
The New Automotive Innovation and Growth (NAIGT) report that was published in 2009 in the UK indicates where growth in low carbon transport will occur and provides estimates of what technologies will be developed and when. Improvements to internal combustion engines will provide the major carbon reduction in the short term, but in the medium to long view, only ultra low carbon transport and technologies can offer the step change in CO2 reduction we need.
The government has a clear vision of placing the UK at the global forefront of ultra low carbon transport and vehicle manufacture, development, demonstration, manufacture and use. The Office for Low Emission Vehicles has brought the government together with industry with a single focus and strategy to deliver this vision. While a number of electric vehicles will be coming to market over the next few years, these will initially be produced in relatively modest volumes. The government?s role at this stage is in providing a supportive environment in which a flourishing early market for new technologies in low carbon transport can be created. But, in order to achieve the transition to mass market, economies of scale from mass production and further improvements to battery technology will be critical.
As well as all-electric vehicles, plug-in-hybrids or range-extended electric vehicles ? where the vehicle can operate as a zero tailpipe emission vehicle for shorter journeys ? may be an attractive option of low carbon transport for consumers. In the future, these vehicles may be run on a combination of electricity and low-carbon renewable fuels such as can be produced from waste or sustainable crops grown on waste land.
Such low carbon transport can provide a very similar driving and journey experience to the current private car. Prototypes exist now and will be in production in the next few years. However, with upwards of over half a billion cars around the world and significant remaining challenges to be overcome, it will take many decades for the global parc to be substantially replaced by very low-energy, low carbon transport alternatives.
Other initiatives in the low carbon transport world include making vehicles that are considerably lighter than those in current use. Carbon fibre composites, for example, have been extensively used in aeroplanes and in racing cars, but have not been used in mass-produced cars. New techniques that are now coming from research laboratories show considerable promise for mass production, invoking novel chassis designs and production techniques. These could radically change manufacturing techniques and lower the cost of the mass-production facilities and the vehicles produced in them.
Smart use of the energy used in vehicles also show promise. Regenerative braking systems are already in production and, as experience is gained, will get more efficient in the recovery of energy in vehicles, both road and rail. Similarly, the use of intelligent cruise controls that use prior knowledge of gradients can offer energy savings up to 25% in early trials, given driver acceptance of such systems. Change of driver behaviour is more difficult to achieve, but providing information to drivers of the instantaneous energy consumption will provide incentives for better driver behaviour.
Innovation in all these and other systems demand concerted and sustained action by the government, academia and industry. The programmes of the UK research councils that fund universities, the innovation platforms and technology programmes of the Technology Strategy Board and the creation of the Automotive Council, co-chaired by the UK government and the automotive industry provide a co-ordinated governance structure for the creation and delivery of new ideas, exploitation in prototypes and then the development into production of low carbon transport systems, vehicle and infrastructure.
This construct aims to deliver low energy and low carbon transport, an infrastructure combination that meets both the social and economic needs of the UK and will offer considerable export potential for UK industry. The model is being expanded to include other transport modes, heavy road and off road, rail and maritime. The ambition of achieving low-energy, low carbon transport is driving innovation and growth across an already successful manufacturing industry and shows great promise for other sectors, stimulating further growth, new jobs and supply networks and resultant export potential.
The UK is very well placed to exploit the potential of these developments in low carbon transport and is demonstrating the leadership to deliver on that potential. Sustaining that leadership is now crucial for success.
Professor Brian Collins
Professor Collins became the Department for Transport?s (DfT) Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) in October 2006 and the CSA for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in June 2009.
He is also Professor of Information Systems at Cranfield University. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2009
Added the 19 April 2010 in category Innovation UK Vol6-1