January 3, 2013

On the road to sustainable development

VTT is kicking off 2013 with the research programme “Smart Mobility Integrated with Low-carbon Energy”– SMILE – bringing together intelligent transport, energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy.
Heikki Saukkomaa

Future transport needs to be put on the road of sustainable development. What kind of journey lies ahead and where will it take us? Research professor Nils-Olof Nylund from VTT leads the way.

By 2050, the transport sector will need to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 60 to 80 per cent. In order to achieve that goal, more emphasis must be placed on the energy efficiency of vehicles, low-carbon energy sources must be taken into use, the use of public transport must be increased and the efficiency and performance of the whole transport system must be improved by utilising information technology, among other things.

That is a tough goal.

“On a global scale, the increase in transport volumes threatens to offset the reductions in emissions resulting from technical progress,” Nylund says. “In Finland, however, carbon dioxide emissions from transport are expected to decline after 2015.”

Smart mobility is sustainable development

According to Nylund, technical progress has been swift. On the vehicle level, for example, electronic control systems, upgraded fuel injection systems and charging have improved energy efficiencly significantly.

“The tightening EU regulations will entail better quality biofuels in future. Electrification is advancing, thanks to which most of the new passenger cars will probably be powered by electricity by 2050. Information systems will also enable more efficient use of vehicles and smoother travel and logistics chains.”

The objective of smart mobility solutions is to shift the focus of transport politics from building and maintaining traffic networks to ensuring smooth traveling and transportation.

“Smart mobility means improving the smoothness or safety of transport by means of information and communications technology. Smart solutions make it easier for citizens to move around, whether they choose to use their own car or public transport,” says Nylund.

Cars don’t fly yet

Future transport will require urban infrastructure to be adapted according to the development that is taking place. In practice, this will involve a variety of actions, such as land use planning, attractiveness and smoothness of public transport, providing facilities for charging electric cars in residential and public buildings and developing an infrastructure of alternative energy sources.

What will the transport sector look like then in, say, 20 years?

“That remains to be seen, but hopefully local air quality problems will be a thing of the past and the greenhouse gas emissions from transport will have taken a clear downward trend,” Nylund envisions.

In 20 years, efficient biofuels and electricity will play a significant role in road transport. Smart systems will also have improved the availability of public transport systems and the efficiency of logistics chains.

“We still have to keep in mind that the average age of a scrapped car in Finland is 20 years. Today’s brand new cars might still be in use in 20 years, although I wish they weren’t. In the 2030s, we will not see flying passenger cars yet…”

Text by: Sari Okko

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