When it comes to sustainable transportation, technology continues making strides in how we travel.

With any luck, we should be heading towards a more sustainable future, a time when transportation will use less energy and fuel. When transportation uses fuel, it will hopefully come from renewable resources.

Automobiles

The advances made by automobiles in becoming more sustainable have been admirable in the last few years.

The first thing to come to mind is the debut of electric vehicles.

At the end of the year, General Motors will begin delivery of its electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt. 

The Volt is classified as a plug-in hybrid. GM has said that the car will have an all-electric range of 40 miles (under normal driving conditions). Once the battery runs out, a 4-cyclinder engine will take over and extend the driving range another 310 miles. At certain speeds above 70 miles per hour, the internal combustion engine will engage and assist in powering the motor.

The other highly-anticipated debut of an electric car this year comes courtesy of Nissan.

The Nissan Leaf will begin delivery in December 2010. The car will have an all-electric range of 100 miles in city driving.

Prior to the arrival of the electric cars, the most fuel efficient vehicle available in the 2010 model year was the Toyota Prius. According to the EPA, the Prius could achieve 51 miles per gallon for the city and 48 miles per gallon for the highway.

The average car in the United States gets between 15 and 40 miles per gallon.

Rail

Rail has long been considered ‘green’ transportation. It continues to advance in terms of sustainability and energy efficiency.

According to the Association of American Railroads, railroad fuel efficiency has risen 104 percent since 1980.

It is expected to continue rising as the industry adapts more technology aimed at improving energy use by railroads.

For example, the Association of American Railroads says the industry is starting to use hyper-intelligent computer systems that calculate the most fuel-efficient speed for a train. In addition, railroads have acquired thousands of new energy-efficient locomotives, including hybrids and ‘gensets,’ which have independent engines that can turn on and off depending on need.

Airplanes

The biggest sustainability news to emerge from the airlines is the use of a software program developed by NASA to help reduce fuel usage.

The software grew out of NASA’s aeronautics research in air traffic management. The Ames Direct-To software was adopted by Boeing, which will in turn offer it to commercial airlines.

At heart, the software is an air traffic management tool that helps identify flight route shortcuts that are wind-favorable and acceptable to air traffic controllers.

According to NASA, the software could save tens of thousands of flight minutes per year for a medium-sized U.S. operator.

Shipping

Starbucks recently received a boost to for its sustainable supply chain when Maersk Line announced that it would begin measuring its carbon emissions vessel by vessel.

According to GreenBiz.com, one of the line’s largest customers, Lloyd’s Register, will independently verify the carbon emissions data.

Maersk has set a goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 25 percent between 2007 and 2020.

The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development stated last month that more than 90 percent of the world’s traded goods are transported by ship. The sector is responsible for an estimated three percent of global carbon emissions.

United Nations talks to establish energy efficiency standards for shipping ended last month with no deal being reached. According to the International Centre’s report, the talks stumbled over the issue of “fair treatment for shipping from the developing world.”

Government talks aside, the future of sustainable transportation appears bright. Technology will likely continue creating more and more fuel-efficient means of getting people and freight from place to place.

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See also:

Fuel efficient transportation