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The Future of Alternative Transportation

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Green technology has become a bigger and bigger topic over the last few years, as the rate of climate change, natural disasters, and environmental decline has grown. Efforts to reform our dependency on fossil fuels and develop methods of harnessing renewable power sources have given rise to alternative transportation resources, from consumer vehicles to industrial shipping trucks. 

Biodiesel, natural gas, hydrogen fuel cell, and electric battery power are the main alternative fuels for transportation. As these alternatives become more widespread, how can we select the best choices for our cities and environment?

Fuel Choices for the Future

Biodiesel and renewable diesel are two of the most common alternative fuels on the commercial transportation market, with Minnesota even requiring the use of B20 biodiesel mix during certain times of the year. Natural gas, another fuel alternative, has two forms as well: compressed or liquefied. 

Compressed natural gas has already been employed in consumer vehicles and is beginning to grow in popularity for large-scale transportation, while liquified gas remains less popular due to costly production and handling requirements.

Renewable natural gases — both compressed and liquefied — are created from the breakdown of renewable source material such as animal waste, landfill gases, or decaying organic matter. At the end of their production pipelines, compressed and liquified gases serve the same uses. 

With our current advancements in technology, however, one of the most promising alternative energy sources is electric vehicle batteries (EVBs). While the traditional market for EVBs has been consumer vehicles, there is strong evidence of an oncoming shift towards utilizing this clean energy source extensively in commercial shipping. 

Though the production process for lithium-ion EVBs creates a lot of emissions, we are still learning the full scope of their applications. With the potential to expand into multiple industries and replace damaging fossil fuels, the as-of-yet-unknown limitations of these batteries make them one of the most promising immediate alternatives. That said, some of the more cumbersome alternatives, such as hydrogen fuel cells, do have the potential to surpass them in the future.

Hydrogen fuel cells carry the heaviest price point but have the potential to surpass the distance limitations of battery-powered vehicles. The process that creates usable energy from the fuel cell itself is relatively clean when considering tailpipe emissions. However, the production and handling of hydrogen make it costly and difficult to transport. 

All of these alternative fuels will lead to a cleaner future — it’s just a matter of implementing one or more of them on a larger scale. 

The Most Efficient Choices and Applications

Promising renewable energy solutions such as EVBs requires the availability of charging stations, which have already begun to be incorporated into the existing infrastructure of cities, to support their positive impact. Many cities, however, are utilizing outdated power grids. To support the increased electrical needs of electric vehicles, cities must update their power systems. One opportunity is through the implementation of private LTE wireless broadband, which will also help to support cities through power outages.

The circumstances needed for alternative fuels to create a lasting impact go beyond the generation of cleaner fuel and their use in consumer vehicles. As we look to the future, we have to consider the most efficient ways to apply renewable energy solutions to dense metropolitan areas where the main form of transportation is mass transit rather than personal vehicles. 

Updating individual homes and businesses with EVB charging stations and creating increased accessibility for consumer electric vehicles may not be as efficient and cost-effective as we would like to think. While the impact of electric vehicles is notable, we must look to core city-wide and industrial resources to create real, lasting change. 

As concerns over long-term plans for the implementation of efficient and clean fuel have arisen, the resurgence in hydrogen as a fuel source has brought about the discussion of a green hydrogen process. Green hydrogen fuel is generated from a process that utilizes water electrolysis to reduce emissions. 

With the application of new fuel systems and related technological advancement, changes in transportation alternatives can allow for both industrial and personal improvements. But what impact will we see on companies and employees as these new technologies take hold?

Impact on Industry and Employees

Even as we move forward in considering the massive impact that new and exciting fuels could have on our cities and our lives, there are differing opinions on how to handle this implementation. As proposals to limit funding to fossil fuel industries are considered at the state level, concerns turn to exactly which renewable sources should be prioritized, and how it will affect employees. This concern is understandable, but some industries are finding opportunities to utilize employees as subject-matter experts and transition them to supervisory positions.

The combination of renewable fuel technology with artificial intelligence is paving the way for innovations such as self-driving cars and trucks. This is an exciting prospect and one that could increase the efficiency of industrial shipping while helping to bridge the growing employment gap that the shipping industry is experiencing. 

Since fewer members of the workforce are willing to take on long-distance truck-driving positions, industrial shipping is preparing to increase automation to compensate. As experts in the day-to-day functional needs and hazards of trucking and transportation, truck drivers may be looking at new careers helping to develop the next generation of shipping efficiencies and overseeing the continued functioning of driverless trucks. 

As environmental concerns grow, and our reliance on fossil fuels continues to affect our environment, the development of new technologies and fuel sources is key in our next steps forward. We must consider which sectors create the greatest impact, and create change on both a micro and macro level. 

If private organizations can broaden the uses of alternative fuels and focus on their industrial applications, while cities and states expand the infrastructures needed to support them on a consumer level, investing in alternative fuel will change more than just our emissions, but how we utilize transportation as a whole.

Indiana  Lee's picture

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 30, 2020 11:14 am GMT

As proposals to limit funding to fossil fuel industries are considered at the state level, concerns turn to exactly which renewable sources should be prioritized, and how it will affect employees.

If a certain fuel/energy choice is the best for consumers & the environment, then that should be pursued regardless of if it hurts the employees of competitor fuels. That may sound harsh, and if such a transition happens then there should 100% be support for the workers/communities impacted by displaced jobs-- but picking a winner simply because it will employ certain people is not a great long-term strategy. Technology displaces workers-- see how many fewer toll workers there are these days. That's a good thing overall, provided we have a safety net and plan for those workers. 

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