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Cleaner road transport highlighted at Göteborg conference

Cleaning up the road transport sector will be a key issue for the European Union’s next Research Framework Programme (FP7, 2007-2013). The TRA 2006 conference in Göteborg, Sweden, emphasised the ‘greening’ of road transport and featured many outstanding presentations on reducing carbon emissions, alternative fuels and vehicles, and reducing traffic noise.

Göteborg road traffic
© Peter Gutierrez

The automotive sector is a key component of the European economy and society. It spends €19 billion per year on research and development, making it the largest private R&D investor in Europe. Unfortunately, it also accounts for 32% of Europe’s energy consumption and 28% of total CO 2 emissions. Without radical change, road transport will be a main reason for Europe’s failure to meet its Kyoto commitments.

Moving matters

How to continue to offer increasing individual mobility, high quality road infrastructure and efficient freight delivery while saving both rural and urban environments was a key issue for the TRA 2006 conference.

“Good logistics is about moving around as many people and things as possible while using up the smallest amount of resources,” explained Peter Sonnabend of DHL/Deutche Post. “Today, urban traffic uses up 40% of the energy spent on transport and it causes 50% of the pollution. In the city environment, good coordination is a critical issue.”

Sonnabend was speaking at a special press briefing on urban mobility. His company is a partner in the EU-funded FIDEUS project, aimed at developing complementary vehicle systems for improved urban freight transport. “We are seeing an ongoing explosion of freight transport demand in European cities,” he said, “but while answering this demand means new economic opportunities, it also requires that we improve organisation. We’ve all seen the effects of increasing city freight transport: delivery trucks, large and small, parked on sidewalks or blocking narrow streets, increasing congestion, noise and air pollution.”

FIDEUS is developing and testing three new vehicle types meant to alleviate these problems while responding to real transport needs. They include:

  • An innovative small electric transporter for sensitive areas and pedestrian zones;
  • An improved 3.5-tonne transporter;
  • A 12-tonne truck, optimised for city traffic.

Critically, all FIDEUS vehicle types are equipped with high-tech driving, loading and communications technologies, enabling improved interaction with traffic control centres and with each other. Partners say the project will contribute substantially to the reduction of pollution while ensuring that affordable supplies and products continue to reach companies, shops and citizens in urban areas.

Cleaner is smarter

“One of our key tasks in road transport research is making the environmentally friendly solution the solution people want,” argued Maurizio Maggiore of the European Commission’s Research Directorate-General. Speaking at the ‘environment and energy’ press briefing, he introduced the work of several groundbreaking projects aimed at curbing the negative effects of road transport.

Maurizio Maggiore
Maurizio Maggiore

A number of these projects deal with the development of new hybrid vehicles, combining two or more power sources. Vittorio Ravello of Fiat’s Centro Ricerche explained: “People say they want to protect the environment, but they also want power and style. For many people, hybrid vehicles could be the answer. While all-electric vehicles need very large batteries and have a limited range, hybrids combine a more conventional thermal combustion power source with an electric power source.”

For now, said Ravello, Japan and the USA are still the big buyers of hybrid vehicles, but Europe is making strides in the use of hybrids as light commercial vehicles, and several projects are looking at how to make better hybrids that are acceptable to more European drivers. HI-CEPS is one such project, carrying out a range of tests on hybrid electromechanical and electromagnetic powertrains. The results will be used in technical and cost comparisons of different hybrid solutions.

The right choice

In its Green Paper on Security of Energy Supply, the European Commission sounded the alarm on Europe’s dependency on imported fossil fuels, a third of which are used by transport. At the TRA 2006 strategic session on alternative fuels, ERTRAC Co-Chair Rudy Kunze introduced key speakers with clear opinions.

“We are facing multiple challenges,” said Olle Hådell of the Swedish Road Administration. “On the one hand, we have rising CO 2 emissions due to fossil fuels. On the other hand, we have increasing demand for oil linked to the rising demand for mobility. We don’t want to decrease mobility so our only choice is to increase efficiency. We need to develop more efficient engines and vehicles. Then, as consumers, we also need to buy these more efficient vehicles, and we have to work to modify our driving behaviour.”

“Multiple breakthroughs are still needed before we can think about a wide scale move to hydrogen power,” said ExxonMobil’s David Rickeard. “Biofuels are more promising in the short term. These can be blended with existing petroleum-based fuels and we don’t all have to go out and buy new cars.” Biofuels are already receiving a lot of attention from the European Union. Speaking at the same session, the European Commission’s Jeroen Schuppers introduced the new Biofuels Technology Platform (see article ‘‘TRA 2006’ highlights Technology Platforms), a clear sign of the importance of this new option.

Bad noise

Environmental noise is another serious transport-linked problem in many industrialised countries, especially in cities. It has been estimated that more than 90 million people in the European Union suffer from unacceptable noise levels and a further 180 million live in so-called ‘grey areas’ where noise can cause serious annoyance.

“Noise pollution is still one of the biggest problems for our society,” said Patrick Mercier-Handisyde, EU Project Officer for road research, “80% of whom now live in cities. While we accept that mobility remains a basic human need, we have to do something about reducing the negative effects of traffic noise.”

Mercier-Handisyde introduced a number of key speakers at the strategic session on quieter road transport. Joseph Affenzeller of AVL List said, ”Vehicle powertrains are the dominant source of vehicle noise and there are still many things we can do about this.“ Affenzeller described a number of innovative approaches, involving new materials and engine configurations. “The main thing,” he said, “is that we need to take a multidisciplinary approach to developing new quieter vehicles.”

Laura Playa Parienten
Laura Playa Parienten

Laura Playa Parienten of Michelin’s Centre de Recherche agreed with Affenzeller on the need to work together. Addressing the question of road/tyre noise, she said, “It is important that we look not only at car tyres but also at road surfaces and at the interaction between the two. All of these factors affect the final level of noise and this means we all have to work together to deal with the problem.”

The greening of surface transport  

Getting European researchers to work together, along with industry and public authorities is what The Union’s Research Framework Programme is all about. Under FP7, the EU will support co-operative research aimed at the development of new technologies for reducing air and noise pollution, for conserving energy through more efficient powertrains and promoting the use of alternative fuels. All of these elements must go hand-in-hand, say EU officials.

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