Guest Blog: Wayne Mitchell – Planes, trains and automobiles

Have you noticed transport seems to be in the news a lot lately? Whatever the mode – from cars to buses, trains to aeroplanes – manufacturers are busy looking for […]

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By ELN reporter

Have you noticed transport seems to be in the news a lot lately? Whatever the mode – from cars to buses, trains to aeroplanes – manufacturers are busy looking for low-emission alternatives to ‘dirty diesel’.

100% electric rail network

Network Rail is currently trialling a new battery-powered train that could replace diesel trains to make the UK train network 100% electric. The zero-emission prototype draws its power from lithium-iron-magnesium batteries and it’s hoped a similar model could replace diesel engines on parts of the network where fitting overhead electric cables is not cost effective.

As well as being greener, Network Rail is hoping this development could help it achieve its 20% cost savings target over the next five years.

Emissions-free buses

Meanwhile in Manchester, a fleet of new fully-electric buses became operational this month, offering passengers an emissions-free shuttle service across the city.

The service is the UK’s largest free bus service, transporting millions of people each year and helping Manchester to reach its target to reduce annual emissions by around one million tonnes.

Cutting aviation’s carbon footprint

One mode of transport we’re unlikely to see going electric any time soon is commercial air travel. But Boeing and South African Airways have announced a joint venture to develop a new jet biofuel made from nicotine-free tobacco plants. The idea is to make use of a crop that can utilise the knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa and elsewhere without creating a product that encourages smoking.

The International Air Transport Association estimates biofuels have the potential to cut the industry’s overall carbon footprint by 80%. Cost saving is another key long-term benefit, with diesel accounting for around one third of an airline’s operating costs.

Increasing the cost of diesel

For motorists, while the cost of diesel is higher than conventional petrol, its appeal comes from its fuel-efficient performance. But if plans to levy additional fees on diesel vehicles in city centre low-emission zones go ahead, they are set to become far less cost-effective in urban areas.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is proposing a £10 fee on top of the London Congestion Charge and at least 20 other cities – including Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester and Bradford – are considering similar charges. This move follows the start of legal action by the European Commission against Britain for breaching air pollution limits (see my earlier blog).

While diesel is more fuel efficient, diesel engines produce pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, which can cause respiratory disease. In Britain, about 29,000 premature deaths a year are thought to be caused by air pollution.

It’s another reason why electric vehicles are growing in popularity. And if French politician Marie-Ségolène Royal has her way, EV numbers could be set to dramatically overtake diesel equivalents in France. The Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy last week proposed that diesel drivers who swap to an EV receive a €10,000 bonus on top of the existing €6,300 grant. If adopted, this measure could make France the world’s EV leader.

While incentives in the UK are less generous, you can still receive a £5,000 grant towards the upfront cost of an EV, plus there’s no road tax to pay and low running costs of around £2 per 80 miles travelled. npower’s own EV team are UK leaders in charging infrastructure – so visit npower.com/EV to find out more.