With air traffic set to increase 5% every year until 2030, scientists are looking at how to make aeroplanes more sustainable. But with current batteries making electric aircraft far too heavy, hybrid fuel and electric models could point the way forward for greener air travel - and could become airborne within 15 years.
The pandemic left a visible imprint on car, bus and bicycle use – and at its height brought about cleaner city air – but it also disrupted another, less obvious but highly polluting sector: freight transport. Coronavirus plunged millions of planes, trucks, trains and ships into a massive experiment, disrupting supply chains as national borders closed and industries shut down. Researchers and industry are now looking to see if any of the changes will stick.
Today, aviation is responsible for 3.6% of EU greenhouse gas emissions. Modern planes use kerosene as fuel, releasing harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But what if there was another way?
People in cities experienced cleaner air during lockdowns, but a permanent shift to greener modes of transport and habits is ‘extremely complex to achieve’ given how much space is devoted to cars and the groups resisting change, says Dr Basile Chaix, who studies the health trade-offs we make as we travel.
Moving more goods by water could reduce pressure on roads and cut emissions, yet Europe’s shipping industry is held back by labour shortages. Automated shipping – which would work in a similar way to self-driving cars – could help expand capacity but safety and regulatory hurdles remain.
Lithium-sulphur batteries, which are lighter and cheaper than today’s models, may be the next generation of power cells that we use in electric cars or mobile phones – if scientists can get them to last for longer.
By 2030, a fifth of the fuel that motorists put into the petrol tanks of their cars could be alcohol, according to research concluding that new petrol and ethanol blends can reduce carbon emissions from Europe’s transport sector with little additional cost to consumers.
In the zero-carbon cities of the future, commuting to work may take the form of hailing a driverless shuttle through an app which ferries you from your door to the nearest public transport terminal. In fact, autonomous shuttles have been in development in restricted areas for the past few years. So what will it take to make them part of our daily commute?
Delivering online shopping to people’s homes is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly when deliveries fail and the journey needs to be repeated. Researchers are now re-thinking home deliveries to see if there is a better way of doing things, with ideas including robot couriers, jointly owned parcel lockers and an ‘Uber’ for parcels.
Different people respond to medication in different ways – and the results can be fatal.
Prof. Christine Stabell Benn is studying the wider effects of common vaccines.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.