Mass Efficient Transportation
Nearly all stakeholders – OEMs, suppliers, governments, and communities – are involved in discussions of eficiency, CO2 emissions, electrification, drones, new mobility solutions and their effects on our daily life. All these discussions mainly focus on outcomes, such as CO2 emissions, traffic jams and our daily problems. In order to understand and solve these problems, we should discuss how we would design and create a new world if we started from scratch. In order to start from scratch, we must turn back to the basics. There are two basic terms that lie behind mobility and transportation. These terms are “Mass” and “Work”. All items have mass and mass needs to be transported from point A to point B for specific reasons. The movement or transportation of mass from one place to another is accepted as work. While transporting the mass, we need to consider first the effective mass and then the effective work.
What is effective mass and work?
For example, imagine we wanted to carry some water or one kilogram of apples. First of all we need a bottle for the water or a bag for the apples.
Then, if we are in a shopping center, we need a trolley and then we need a car to go home. While doing this work we carry the water and kilogram of apples as effective masses, but we also carry ineffective or unrequired masses like the mass of the bottle, bag, trolley and car.
How much mass should we move in order to carry 1 kilogram of these masses – water, oil, apple, computer, mobile phones and people – in todays’ transportation systems?
Right now, more than 6.000 planes are flying in the air and they are carrying more than 500,000 people. More than half a million people are in the air going from one city to another at any one time of the day. More than 100,000 ships in the sea are carrying goods like mobile phones, cars, oil, consumer goods, and foods, etc. And these ships carry more than 90 percent of what we buy and use in our daily life. There are more than 1.2 billion vehicles on the world’s roads and the number is growing each and every year.
Masses need to be transported and there are four main transportation systems: sea, air, rail and road.
Sea transportation is the most carbon efficient mode of transportation. Some large container ships can carry 11,000 containers of cargo, which is nearly 220 kilotons of materials. If that number of containers was loaded on a train it would needed to be 77 kilometers or 44 miles long. 130 million containers carrying 2.6 x 1012 kg of material are transported via sea freight every year, and $400 billion of goods are transported by sea freight globally. If mass efficiency is calculated, it is between 30–45 percent. Net weight cannot be less than 30 percent of the gross tonnage, which means ships are running at a minimum of 30 percent efficiency from the mass point of view.
The second mode of transportation is air transportation, which is very weight and cost conscious. There are more than 100,000 airplanes flying around the world each and every day. Travel distances differ from 2 miles to over 9,000 miles. Commercial airplanes fly an average of 1,430 miles and a total of 150 million miles per day, which is about 240 million kilometers. During these travels, each plane carries nearly 4.5 kg of mass for each kilogram of goods, people or material. Air transportation is not such a mass-efficient transportation system with 15–30 percent efficiency. Even the Boeing 787 and Airbus 350 have no more than 30 percent mass efficiency, and they have more than 50 percent composites in their body.
Nearly 10 billion kilometers has been traveled by train passengers and 1.5 billion tonnes of material transported last year in this way in the European Union alone. In one subway, more than thousand people can be carried one way. Train weight can vary from 2,000 tons to up to 40,000 tons depending on the allowance limits of the railways in different countries. Therefore, mass efficiency can vary a lot. It can be lower than air transportation in subways, but can be competitive with sea transportation in load-carrying systems.
The last and most popular transportation system is road transportation. More than 1.2 billion vehicles are to be found the world's roads right now, and the number will be around 2 billion by 2035. 95 percent of that number is light duty vehicles, which includes cars. Just last year, nearly 100 million motor vehicles were produced in the world, and this number increases each and every year. 5 trillion kilometers were traveled by car in the United States alone. Let’s assume the curb weight of a car is about 1000-1500 kg. Usually, one or two people are travelling in the car. Most cars will be travelling with only one passenger, the driver, and just a few vehicles will be travelling with more than two passengers. Therefore, cars are not usually carrying more than 200 kg. As a result, mass efficiency cannot be higher than 15 percent. In order to move a kilogram of mass from one point to another we have to move approximately eight kilograms in urban areas, meaning the work done is completely inefficient.
If we are trying to understand our mobility needs we must discover the answers to the following questions.
1. How do/will/could people and goods move about?
Drones and autonomous vehicles are right now the new reality of our world and we should choose the most mass- and energy-efficient transportation systems for sustainability. Besides, we should also think outside the box and we do not have to stick to existing systems/platforms.
2. How can efficiencies be improved?
There are lots of ways, and companies are discussing new technologies such as engine technologies, new materials, electrification, car sharing, etc.
3. How can technology assist travel choices and movement?
Lightweight technologies and new design capabilities will have more effect on the efficiency of new transportation systems in the near future.
While thinking about mass efficiency, material technologies have a really big effect. Steel is the main material used in all transportation systems. Aluminum is the second most common material. Composite materials are relatively new and are much less common materials in transportation systems.
Material technologies can be and will be one of the important tools for increasing efficiency. Just by switching metal parts for new materials like composites, we can at least double mass efficiency. But it is not easy to directly replace materials. An integrated design approach and specialist knowledge should be applied to create new platforms.
Time is passing very fast and in order to take a lead in the technology, we need a good infrastructure, which our Composites Center of Excellence supplies. But without collaboration and open innovation, we cannot create and reinforce our future world. We have to use our resources – our energy, time and budget – efficiently and wisely. And we do not have enough time to stick to the status quo. We must imagine, realize and reinforce our world together.