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The Coolest New Developments in Alternative Transportation

  • Laurel Angrist
  • 26 October 2011

Scientists have sounded a clear and very loud warning: climate change is a reality. With the transportation industry as one of the biggest sources of global warming–inducing CO2 emissions, we must act now to adopt smarter and more sustainable transportation solutions for the benefit our communities.

What will it take to build a more sustainable transportation industry that is less dependent on fossil fuels? Looking ahead into this brave new world of alternative transport, we bring to you some of the better (but also weirder and wilder) ideas and conveyances of the future.

burlington-vermont-green-cabs

'Oscar' is a Toyota Sienna minivan that can hold up to seven passengers. On the roads around Burlington, Vermont, its hydrogen injection system reduces the inefficiency of the internal combustion engine, using less gasoline and producing less emissions. Photo courtesy of Green Cabs VT

Green Path Transfers

After having responsibly paid the carbon offset for your flights, or, better yet, opted to travel by train or even slower local transport, you might as well do the right thing during airport and other intercity motorised transfers. Green Path Transfers is one company that has built an entire business around going green.

Its long-term goal is to support innovations in low-carbon transport. Fortunately, today’s scientists, engineers and manufacturers are hard at work building smarter, cleaner and more energy-efficient vehicles. In fact, the latest wave of hybrids (see below), which include a new plug-in model of the Toyota Prius with a fuel economy of almost 100 miles per gallon, are just a taste of the many bigger and better innovations to come.

Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf is the world's first mass-market all-electric vehicle. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Club RACC

Turning Over a New Leaf

The amount of fossil fuel burned while driving is staggering: put 12,000 miles a year on a regular 20-mile-per-gallon car and you will produce upwards of six tons of CO2 every year. Hybrids like the Prius bring that number down to approximately 3.5 tons annually, but there’s no time like the present to knock that figure down to… zero.

Enter the Nissan Leaf, which made its debut last year as the world’s first mass-produced all-electric vehicle. Ushering in a new era in transportation, this green dream machine starts at US$33,000. The downside? Extreme temperatures are bad for the batteries and internal heating/cooling control uses lots of juice.

USS Makin Island

The USS Makin Island is the US Navy's first hybrid amphibious assault vessel. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Ray Narimatsu/Released

Lean Green Fighting Machine

Beginning with a supersonic jet powered partly by biofuel, the U.S. military has set itself an aggressive mission to reduce its dependence on petroleum through the use of renewable energy sources. Make no mistake: this actually has nothing to do with halting the environmental damage done by burning 300,000 barrels of oil on a typical day. One cold hard fact alone is behind the military’s move to go green: half the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan occurred while guarding fuel convoys.

With the Navy having set its sights on cutting its petroleum use in half by 2020, all eyes are now on the greener fleet being built. The USS Makin Island is its first hybrid amphibious assault vessel and is capable of transporting an entire marine unit. On its first voyage, the ship is rumoured to have saved $2 million worth in fuel.

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A Motorcycle Worth Wearing

Half exoskeleton, half motorbike, the Deus Ex Machina is the brainchild of Jake Loniak, a former student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Planned with efficient urban transport in mind, the bike would be powered by lithium-ion batteries and ultracapacitors, and steered via pneumatic muscles that inflate and deflate with pressurized air. The Tron-like suit exists for now only as a computer illustration, but its technology and design is based on real-world science. If built, this evil-looking green machine would be capable of going from 0 to 60 miles in just 3 seconds.

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Going Solo in the City

Honda unveiled its unusual personal transport vehicle, the Honda 3R-C, at the 2010 Geneva International Motor Show. Designed for urban commuters, the three-wheeled electric 3R-C is part motorcycle and part car, with an enveloping glass windshield that can move back to completely cover the driver during inclement weather. Designed at Honda’s research and design facility in Milan, the concept vehicle also has a lockable boot area for luggage storage.

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Dreams of Flying Cars

When it comes to hard physics, it’s true that automobiles and airplanes function in very different ways. Fortunately, that hasn’t stopped engineers from promising us a flying car since the early days of science fiction. Today, those dreams of personal flight have finally become a reality.

Cleared for flight in 2010 by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and for the road by the state of Florida, the I-TEC Maverick is a true flying car with a wing deployment system and powered parachutes. Part dune-buggy, part aircraft, this aptly named machine can be used off-road and in mid-air, as well as on the highway.

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Laurel Angrist

A native New Yorker, Laurel Angrist is a well-practiced escape artist whose passion for travel and the outdoors has led her to some truly offbeat and interesting places. Outside her work as media consultant for the WHL Group and wordster-in-chief of The Travel Word, Laurel is a writer specialising in stories about tourism, culture and the environment, and is also pursuing a masters in Library Studies at the City University of New York. Visit her website: www.laurelangrist.com.
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