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Transport & Infrastructure

E - Evacuated tube transport

H - Hypersonic airliners

S - Solar roadways | Solar hybrid vessels

T - Transatlantic tunnel


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Evacuated tube transport

Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) could revolutionise the way we travel in the future. Using airless and frictionless vacuum tubes, passengers would travel in enclosed pods at speeds of up to 4,000mph (6,500kph), greatly reducing journey times. It would be safer, cheaper and quieter than trains or aeroplanes.*




Hypersonic airliners

Hypersonic airliners are already being researched and developed, and could enter commercial service within the next 25 years.*

These aircraft would have a cruising speed of Mach 5 - or 3,800 mph - allowing them to fly from Europe to Australia in less than four hours. With a range of more than 20,000 km (12,000 miles) they could perform this journey without refuelling. They would have excellent subsonic and supersonic fuel efficiency, avoiding the problems inherent in earlier supersonic aircraft. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, hypersonic airliners will be environmentally friendly. Powered by liquid hydrogen, their only waste products will be water vapor and small levels of nitrous oxide.

Another advantage is that, while the 150m-long designs will be larger than previous jets, they will actually be lighter than Boeing 747s and could utilise conventional airport runways. They will have moderate take-off noise, too.

In many ways, they will be the spiritual successor of Concorde.

The craft will likely be windowless, however. The heat generated by traveling so fast will make it difficult to install windows that are not too heavy. One solution to this problem might be the installation of flat screen displays projecting images of the scene outside.




Solar roadways

Solar roadways are a relatively new concept. If developed, they would allow highways, roads, parking lots, driveways and pavements to create electricity, using photovoltaics. Traditional asphalt and concrete surfaces could instead be replaced by super-strong, self-healing glass and solar panels capable of being driven and walked upon.

Besides the production of clean energy, these hi-tech surfaces would have other advantages. In northern climates, for example, they could heat themselves with embedded heating elements (similar to the rear window of a car), eliminating ice and snow buildup. Cities would no longer have the expense of snow removal and the problems caused by the chemicals (salt, magnesium chloride, etc.) used to maintain clear roads. Businesses would no longer have to worry about keeping their parking lots cleared, while homeowners would no longer have to suffer through winters of shovelling or ploughing snow off their driveways and sidewalks. A large number of deaths and injuries would be prevented just by keeping the roads safe and dry.

LED signage could be built in, creating "smart" roads that dynamically responded to traffic, weather, emergencies and other events. For example, if an animal tried to cross, oncoming drivers would be instantly alerted and given plenty of time to slow down.


solar roadways prototype 2010 future transport infrastructure
Credit: Dan Walden


Electric vehicles would benefit tremendously. They could be recharged at any conveniently located rest stop, or at any business incorporating solar road panels in their parking lots. Owners could plug their cars in and recharge them while shopping or dining out.

Solar roadways would offer a decentralised power source - replacing all of our current centralised power stations. Roads and pavements would become the power grid, producing a secure and stable network of energy that would be impossible to shut down by terrorists or anybody else. The days of widespread power outages would be history. The need for unsightly utility poles and relay stations would also be eliminated.

It would take roughly five billion 12' by 12' solar road panels just to cover the roads, parking lots and driveways in the USA. Imagine the manufacturing requirements: so many new jobs would be created that it might very well become the "New Deal" of the 21st century. Workers could be retrained from obsolete jobs such as coal miners and asphalt workers with new "green collar" jobs. Unemployment rates would plummet. Vast sums of money would be injected back into the economy. Given the political will and financial commitment, this revolutionary technology could produce the biggest mobilisation of workers since WWII.

At least one organisation in the USA has obtained funding to develop prototypes. Solar Roadways, run by Scott and Julie Brusaw, has been awarded a $100,000 research contract by the US Department of Transportation.*


solar roadways prototype 2010 future transport infrastructure
Credit: Dan Walden



Solar hybrid vessels

In the near future, the availability of cheap energy is likely to become a major issue as fossil fuels begin to decline. Ship transport will be among the sectors most directly affected. Even if peak oil lies further into the future than currently predicted, another trend coming into play is the need to drastically reduce CO2 emissions. A recent study by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) claims that emissions from the shipping industry now stand at roughly 1 billion metric tons per year.* This is nearly 3% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions, or eight times the total CO2 released by all volcanoes on Earth.* If shipping were ranked as a country, it would be equivalent to the 6th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.*

Both peak oil and global warming have spurred efforts to create new and more efficient ship transport systems. There are many technical and operational means by which this is being achieved. These include new propeller and rudder designs, more flexible use of engines, waste heat recovery, better route planning, improved weather routing systems and autopilots, speed optimisation and improved slot time and turn-around systems in ports and canals.

A more exciting, innovative and longer-term solution is the use of solar and hybrid technologies. The car industry is already beginning to go electric, with a majority of new vehicles predicted to be electric or hybrid-electric by 2030. Eventually, the shipping industry could see widespread adoption of electric too.


solar hybrid vessel ocean empire lsv sauter co2 design
Solar Hybrid Vessel - "Ocean Empire" LSV | © 2011 Sauter CO2 design


Electric boats became popular in the 1880s, a trend that continued until the 1920s, when internal combustion engines took dominance. Since the energy crisis of the 1970s, interest in this quiet and potentially renewable marine energy source has been increasing steadily again, especially as solar cells are now available - making possible motorboats with unlimited ranges like sailboats.

The first practical solar boat was constructed in 1975 in England. The first commercial solar passenger boats appeared in Switzerland in 1995, capable of short excursions on lakes. The first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a solar boat was achieved in 2007 by the 14m (46ft) long catamaran Sun21.* Another milestone was achieved in 2009 when the first cargo ship to use solar power was launched in Japan. The 60,000 ton, 200m (660ft) vessel can generate 40 kilowatts of solar power, which covers only 0.2% of the ship's energy for propulsion, but its company hopes to increase this ratio.*

As of 2011, the Tûranor PlanetSolar is the world's largest 100% solar powered boat, with a length of 31m (101ft) and a maximum speed of 14 knots (26 km/h). Powered by 470 square metres of solar panels, it is set to circumnavigate the Earth, stopping at cities along the way to raise public awareness of renewable energy.

As solar power becomes cheaper and more efficient, companies are now looking to the future with a number of more advanced design concepts emerging. One such company is Sauter Carbon Offset Design. Its primary objective is "...to reduce GHG emissions by 50 to 100% in boats by optimizing and applying the full range of well-established technology in shipbuilding, and when applicable to employ the cutting edge advances to come out of the automotive and aerospace industry."

As illustrated on their website, solar isn't the only form of alternative energy that can be applied to ship transport. Assisting sails and/or giant kites utilising the wind can be incorporated too. In optimal weather conditions and using the right materials and setup, these could offer surprisingly strong power.* Energy from passing waves captured by Motion Damping Regeneration (MDR) could also be used.


solar hybrid vessel ocean empire lsv sauter co2 design
Solar Hybrid Vessel - "Ocean Empire" LSV | © 2011 Sauter CO2 design



As oil continues to decline, perhaps even disappearing within 50 years, larger bulk carriers may transition to solar and hybrid technology. Below is one such concept. The "Black Magic" tanker is a 125m long solar hybrid vessel that would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 75 to 100% - harnessing energy from the Sun, wind and waves to charge a lithium-ion storage system.*


solar hybrid vessel black magic tanker sauter co2 design
Solar Hybrid Vessel - "Black Magic" tanker | © 2011 Sauter CO2 design



Transatlantic tunnel

One hypothetical structure that may become a reality later this century is a transatlantic tunnel. If built, this would allow undersea transit between Europe and North America. At speeds greater than 5,000 mph (8,000 kph), passengers could travel from London to New York in less than an hour.*

Through the use of nanotechnology, automation and robots, the tunnel could be built surprisingly quickly. It would be controlled largely by AI. Carbon nanotubes and powerful geo-sensing devices would be paramount in the structure's design; these could self-adjust in the event of undersea earthquakes, for example.

The trains would use a maglev system and would operate in a complete vacuum. This would eliminate air friction, enabling them to reach hypersonic speeds.

The cost of such a project would be in the region of $88-175bn.*


transatlantic tunnel route future transportation undersea trains tube 2050 2080 2100 technology atlantic ocean






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1 Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies, et3 Network:
Accessed 23rd April 2012.

2 Reaction Engines A2, Wikipedia:
Accessed 2nd May 2010.

3 Solar-powered 'smart' roads could zap snow, ice, CNN:
Accessed 22nd January 2011.

4 Shipping CO2 emissions - Technical solutions and abatement potential, International Maritime Organization (IMO):
Accessed 12th June 2011.

5 "Volcanoes release more than 130 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year."
See Volcanic Gases and Their Effects, U.S. Geological Survey:
Accessed 12th June 2011.

6 As Shipping Emissions Increase, Cool New Designs Emerge, Climate Progress:
Accessed 12th June 2011.

7 Solar boat makes Atlantic history, BBC:
Accessed 12th June 2011.

8 Japan launches first solar cargo ship, Solar Daily:
Accessed 12th June 2011.

9 Ocean Empire, Sauter Carbon Offset Design:
Accessed 12th June 2011.

10 Black Magic Tanker, Sauter Carbon Offset Design:
Accessed 12th June 2011.

11 Extreme Engineering: Transatlantic Tunnel, Discovery Channel:
Accessed 2nd May 2010.

12 Trans-Atlantic MagLev, Popular Science:
Accessed 2nd May 2010.


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