Low Carbon Transport Solutions

During 2020 this blog has considered some existing or developing solutions for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Many innovations are being progressed or are in the pipeline. There are many solutions that have been developed and are being utilised to have a positive impact on the environment and improving air quality already.

This month there is a review of three transport projects that are developing clean energy solutions for trains, ferries and cars. Any hydrogen fuel used needs to be the so-called “green hydrogen” that is generated from clean energy sources. If hydrogen is used from fossil fuel based sources, then there will not be the same benefits.

The Hydrogen Train Revolution

In Germany, Siemens and Deutsche Bahn, the national train operator, are testing a hydrogen powered train that has a range of 600 kilometres. The technology aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by making 1,300 diesel units obsolete. A two-car train powered by a new hydrogen drive will commence trials in 2024 for a year. The train will have a top speed of 160 kilometres per hour (99.4 miles per hour). It can be recharged in 15 minutes. The train, the Mireo Plus H, will run in the state of Baden-Württemberg. The new hydrogen drive will save around 330 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year. It will make a significant contribution toward achieving climate carbon reduction targets. Deutsche Bahn plans to eliminate diesel trains from its network by 2050 and hydrogen is one option for railway lines that are not electrified already (or are uneconomic to electrify).

The train will be powered by a battery and fuel cells that converts hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. It is a hybrid model. Siemens will develop a three-car train with a longer range of 1,000 kilometres (621 miles). Whether power is from renewable electricity or hydrogen for railways the principal factor is that the energy comes from renewable sources. Germany is pioneering modern, sustainable rail transport. See this CNN report for further details.

Hydrogen looks to be a promising energy source for railways. France’s Alstom has already tested a hydrogen-powered train in northern Germany from 2018. It has expanded the service to Austria. The Coradia iLint train is the only hydrogen powered train to have operated in passenger service covering over 180,000 kilometre in service in Germany and now Austria. It has undertaken trials in the Netherlands. In the UK there have been trials of a hydrogen powered train from September 2020. There are several hydrogen train trials underway.

The hydrogen “fuelled” vehicles typically use a chemical process using fuel cells. The fuel cells combine hydrogen from onboard storage tanks with oxygen from the atmosphere to create electricity with by-products of water vapour and heat. It is a chemical process that does not involve combustion and there are no carbon or other harmful emissions. A hybrid approach combines the fuel cells and batteries which allows for regenerative energy capture further boosting the mixed energy source. Details can be found on The Engineer web site.

The Ferry Revolution: Bangkok’s Electric Powered Catamarans

Bangkok is the world’s most visited city, welcoming nearly 23 million international visitors last year. Air quality within the city is regularly recorded at unhealthy levels due to a combination of factors, including traffic, construction and factory emissions and the burning of waste and crop residues. Often pollutants, such as exhaust fumes, cannot dissipate from the city due to local weather conditions. In January 2020 there were at least seven days with air pollution being recorded at an unhealthy level in the city.

Thailand’s Government is beginning to clean up its air by the promotion of alternative energy modes of transport. 27 fully-electric catamarans form part of an ambitious strategy that includes a US$3 billion battery factory and range of electric cars. Each of the 24 metre long catamaran can carry 200 passengers and will contain two electric motors manufactured by Danfoss Editron. The motors provide a continuous power output of between 174-192kW, depending on the temperature they are operating at. They offer smaller dimensions, lighter weight and higher efficiencies than current diesel motors and are designed to operate in tough operating environments.

In addition, fast-charging dockside stations are being installed by Energy Absolute as part of a US$33 million investment in the project. These electric charging stations will be capable of charging ferries in around 15 minutes. Ferries will have a range of range of 80-100 kilometres; they will be capable of operating for between two and four hours on each charge. Two ferries are undergoing initial trials with the aim of rolling out the larger fleet over the course of a year. Hotels and real estate developers have also expressed interest in the fully-electric catamarans which could further reduce emissions on Bangkok’s waterways. Further details can be found on the Danfoss website.

The Re-fuelling Revolution

The UK has its first all-electric recharging station. The Gridserve forecourt is in South East England near Braintree has 36 charging points exclusively for electric vehicles. The company has plans for many more of these charging stations. It has a stated aim of making electric vehicle driving an “enjoyable, ultra-convenient and stress-free experience.”

This company has a UK wide £1 billion programme to install further electric charging stations. The aim is to take the concerns of “range anxiety” and ensure that there are good quality facilities available to allow people to re-charge electric vehicles. The service station is being re-imagined for the future with retail, leisure, meeting rooms and even an option to generate electric power from exercise bicycles! Canopies are covered with solar PV so that all roof space is dedicated to generating more clean power.

Innovations such as this will make the charging experience much better for people who have electric cars. The charging centre is a destination with facilities such as shops including a post office which will mean that time taken to charge a vehicle can be used productively undertaking other tasks.

Whilst this is the first of many all electric charging stations, it will be interesting to see if the design for later stations evolves to make for an even better experience.


The climate solutions outlined here offer a cleaner way to transport people around. There needs to be an acceleration of technologies such as these to provide cleaner ways to get around. All solutions will reduce local air quality impacts and provide alternatives to fossil fuel use. Any hydrogen used for powering trains or other transport should be derived from renewable sources as should the sources of power to fuel the catamarans and cars. The service station is using solar PV to provide a clean energy solution.

Posted in Air Quality, Carbon Dioxide, Climate Solutions, Electric Car, Energy, Fuel Cells, Germany, Hydrogen Fuel, Netherlands, Pollution, railways, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Transport, Zero | Leave a comment

Give Us A Wave (Power Revolution)

Wave Power Developments

There are several wave power developments that are now being scaled up to generate reliable and clean energy from an abundant and sustainable resource – waves from the sea. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) estimates that wave energy is at least three times more predictable than wind energy. There are great opportunities to expand, and benefit from, wave power that is a reliable source of energy. With almost half of the world’s population living within 100 kilometres of the coastline there will always be a market for clean energy generated by the sea.

This month three examples of different approaches to wave energy converters are showcased from around the world. They are all pioneering the generation of electricity from the waves. Each one utilises a slightly different approach to capturing energy from the waves and each has a different electrical output. The solutions are quite small but are being scaled up and offer good sources of energy for islands. It can remove the need for fossil fuel generators that are typically powered by diesel.

Wave Swell

In Tasmania, Wave Swell is installing a 200kW wave energy device, to be deployed on King Island by the end of 2020. Construction of the device is almost complete, with the unit commissioning expected to begin in the first quarter of 2021. The energy produced will complement existing wind and solar grid, diversifying the renewable sources. It has the benefit of reducing diesel consumption on King Island.

This device uses well-established concept of the oscillating water column (OWC). As water rises and falls inside, air is forced past a turbine at the top of the chamber. The turbine generates electricity which then can be sent back to shore via a cable. The technology operates unidirectionally. This means that the turbine is simpler, than models that operate bidirectionally, more robust and reliable. It exhibits a higher energy conversion efficiency as a result. Details can be seen here: Wave Swell.

Wavestar is a Danish project, dating from 2000, that is looking to harness the power of the waves but also to create a flexible platform that will enable the combination of renewable energy sources. For example, wave power with wind power or with solar panels. Wavestar is requesting European Union (EU) support through its Horizon 2020 program which is aiming for innovation lead sustainable growth. Wavestar, as part of an industrial consortium, is aiming to produce the first full-scale 1 MW Wavestar wave energy converter (WEC) to be tested commercially.

A WEC prototype has been in use at Nissum Bredning in North West Denmark. It creates a regular output of energy from ocean swells and waves (which are typically 5-10 seconds apart). This was achieved with a row of half-submerged buoys, which rise and fall in turn as the wave passes. The design allows energy to be continually produced, despite the periodic nature of waves. There is a built-in protection system that prevents the wave machine being damaged in extreme storms or weather events.

A test 600 kW machine was installed at Hanstholm in September 2009 and has been connected to the grid since February 2010. This is a half scale machine, developed over time, which has been gradually scaled up from smaller prototypes. Designs have evolved to reduce cost and allow deployment to other sea areas. It is estimated that the machine should be adaptable to different types of wave systems around the European coastline. This is a key feature that should allow the technology to adapt and expand. It aims to be a scalable low carbon energy solution for the future.

The final example is another wave power project benefiting from the EU Horizon 2020 program: Arrecife Systems from Spain. Prototypes have been tested in the north of the country in the Cantabrian Sea. It is another company that is developing small energy systems that will support different situations. An example is providing power to small island communities. It has a 75kW, 440kW and 2MW system. The wave energy converters are designed to work with the most common waves, ranging in height from 1 to 5 metres. This represents around 98% of the waves. As a result, there is more efficiency both in the manufacturing and in the energy production which allows the WECs to be working at full capacity during more hours of the day.

These examples show the potential to scale up wave technology and harness energy from the sea which is very reliable and clean source of electric power. The energy being generated is gradually being developed with the different designs are being tested fully to evaluate and improve them. Capturing continual energy will be a big win over solar and wind power. Wave power has a huge potential if it is given the right backing for it to grow and prosper.

Posted in Climate Solutions, Energy, Energy efficiency, Europe, Islands, Phase Transition, Renewable Energy, Resources, Smart, Sustainable Development, Technology, Tidal Power, Zero | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Largest Island Is Melting: Here’s Why It Matters

Greenland’s Increasing Ice Melt

Greenland is the world’s largest island that is not a continental land mass. The Greenland Ice Sheet covers around 80% of the island. The weight of the ice sheet has depressed the central land area resulting in a basin lying more than 300 metres below sea level. Elevations rise suddenly and steeply near to the coast. Generally ice flows are from the island centre to the coast. The Greenland Ice Sheet is losing mass at accelerated rates in the 21st century, making it the largest single contributor to rising sea levels. It is largely caused by retreats of glacier fronts which is now sustaining glacier melting and persistent ice loss. There is also ice melt from a a warming Arctic air mass.

Research highlighted in Nature shows an acceleration in the Greenland Ice Sheet melt with mass being lost at an increasing rate. 40 years of satellite data has been used to reach these conclusions. In the decades leading up to the turn of the century, the ice sheet was in a state of relative equilibrium. The ice lost in a given year would be replenished by wintertime snowfall. This has now changed.

There was a step-increase in decadal-scale ice discharge with around a 60 giga tonne (Gt yr−1), or 14%, increase between the 1985–1999 and 2007–2018 means. There was a temporary decrease for 3 years around 2005. The discharge continued to accelerate, at a slower pace of 2 Gt yr−1, during 2008–2018. A peak annual value of 502 ± 9 Gt yr−1 was reached in 2017 and 2018 which is 17% above the 1980’s average.

This study shows that there is an observed increase in discharge of 4–5% per every weighted mean kilometre of retreat. This means that for each kilometre of ice loss there is an increasing rate of discharge. Such events are clear evidence of positive feedback events that science has predicted at the higher latitudes. This accelerates the ice loss. Totals remained relatively stable at rates near 495–500 Gt yr−1, but this increase was still sufficient to effectively shift the ice sheet to a state of persistent mass loss.

Increased ice melt is due to both increased surface meltwater runoff and ablation of marine-terminating outlet glaciers via calving and submarine melting. This is termed ice discharge. Total mass loss over the 1992–2018 period was due to approximately equal contributions from both but with greater contribution from increased melt runoff after 2000, when mass losses accelerated. Increased surface melt can be shown to indicate a shorter-term response to climate forcing. Within such a large area there are substantial regional differences in behaviour, even at the individual glacier level, that is likely the result of differences in ocean and atmospheric forcing. Every Greenland region displays the 4–5% increase in mean discharge per kilometre of weighted mean retreat.

In late August 2020 the changes to the ice sheet in Greenland saw further evidence of ablation of marine-terminating outlet glaciers, according to this BBC report. A huge area of ice broke away from the Arctic’s largest remaining ice shelf – 79N, or Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden – which is in the north east of Greenland. The section of ice covers around 110 square kilometres. It went on to disintegrate into many smaller pieces. This is further evidence of a rapidly changing climate leading to further changes in ice cover in Greenland.

79N became is now the largest remaining Arctic ice shelf, after the Petermann Glacier located in northwest Greenland was drastically reduced in size over a period between 2010 and 2012. It is not just warming air temperatures that affect the ice shelves here. Oceanographers have documented warmer sea temperatures around Greenland meaning the shelf ice is almost certainly being melted from beneath as well as from above.

A recent report, from the World Economic Forum, notes the consequences for sea level rise from Greenland’s melting ice. It highlights the rate of ice loss over the past two decades as being a rate of around 6,100 billion tonnes per century. If future emissions are very high, it could lose to up to 35,900 billion tonnes per century. Even if global warming can be limited to 2 degrees Celsius, Greenland’s ice sheet could still lose 8,800 billion tonnes per century. The very high scenario would add almost 10cm to global sea levels. This phys.org article notes that the Greenland Ice Sheet was likely to have moved to a state of persistent ice loss at the turn of this century. The ice sheet contains the equivalent of about 24 feet (over 7.3 metres) of global mean sea level rise. It is now considered the largest single contributor to rising sea levels worldwide due to the rapid retreat.

If there is a 2 Celsius temperature increase scenario, southwestern Greenland could add 2.4cm to global sea levels per century by 2100. Under a high emissions scenario, this could rise to 9.9cm.

This World Economic Forum Video shows that 11 billion tonnes of ice melted in just one day from the ice sheet. It highlights some of the other factors that are influencing the rate of acceleration of the Greenland ice melt.

Greenland itself may ultimately be transformed into a series of smaller islands should the ice sheet or parts of it melt. The impact of melting ice sheets here will affect many people as global sea levels rise. Even these apparently small changes can make a difference to localised flooding in low-lying areas when there is a storm surge or low pressure weather system further increasing the wave heights.

The rate of ice sheet destruction is increasing at a greater rate as both the Arctic air and water temperatures rise. This will have an impact of the rest of the ice sheet, potentially opening up currently protected parts of the sheet to increased risks of ablation. The potential of the full 7 metres of increase in global sea levels is why it is important to prevent further warming and lessen the risks that would be much more severe under high emission scenarios. Greenland’s ice melt will have an impact many miles away and will affect the rest of the world through sea level rises.


King, M.D., Howat, I.M., Candela, S.G. et al. Dynamic ice loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet driven by sustained glacier retreat. Commun Earth Environ 1, 1 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-020-0001-2




Posted in Arctic, Climate Change, Earth Science, Geography, Greenland, Islands | Tagged | Leave a comment