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Major focus on transport research at ETP conference

The European Technology Platform (ETP) conference 'Working together on societal changes' featured key sessions on transport research, highlighting the central role of mobility in modern society. Issues included decarbonisation, door-to-door urban mobility, and safety and security.

Wolfgang Steiger and András Siegler © Peter Gutierrez
ERTRAC Chairman Wolfgang Steiger with András Siegler
© Peter Gutierrez

In the first of three major discussions on transport at the ETP conference in Brussels in May 2010, the Director of Transport at the European Commission’s Research Directorate-General (DG RTD), András Siegler, put the environmental impact of transport in perspective.

"As our European roads, waterways and airspace have become increasingly busy," he said, "problems of noise, congestion and pollution have only become more urgent. Anyone would agree that the convenient and fast transport that we value so much must become more sustainable, economically, socially and environmentally.

The transport sector accounts for up to 19% of total greenhouse gas emissions, Siegler explained. At the same time, transport plays an enormous role in the European economy. The sector at large accounts for about 7% of GDP and for over 5% of total employment in the EU.

"So today, we are facing the challenge of developing innovative transport technologies that can help achieve decarbonisation, without limiting trade or mobility," he said.

No standing still

The European Commission has already set targets to achieve decarbonisation. The recently adopted Climate and Energy Package aims to reduce the EU's greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels. Science and industry have also been very active in searching out solutions for reducing fuel dependency, vehicle emissions and network congestion, demonstrating widespread concern about a heavily carbon-based energy system.

Siegler cited three important EU initiatives aimed at curbing the carbon footprint of transportation activities:

  • The Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative includes 86 partners from industry and research working together to clean up aviation product life cycles, to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% and nitrogen oxide emissions by as much as 80%.
  • The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking is bringing public and private partners together to speed up the commercial introduction of fuel cells and hydrogen technologies.
  • The European Green Cars Initiative combines public interest with industrial leadership, supporting research and innovation on road transport electrification, more efficient internal combustion engines for trucks, and improved logistics.

The ETP conference session on decarbonising transport featured presentations by transport research ETPs  WATER BORNETPexternal linkERTRACexternal link and  ACAREexternal link, each putting forward its own perspective on transport and environmental issues.

Standards take centre stage

Also speaking at the decarbonisation session, John Ketchell, Director Innovation for CEN-CENELEC ('European Committee for Standardisation' and 'European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation') explained how standards can help translate innovation into market success. "Europe needs clean and efficient transport technologies for economic and societal well-being," he said. "Standards are a prerequisite for these technologies to be fully adopted by the market."

Paris underground © Peter Gutierrez
Linking transport networks
© Peter Gutierrez

The need to improve links between the ETPs and the standards environment was stressed at several different points during the conference, including the keynote address of the new European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

"The recent CEN-CENELEC 'STAIR' document promotes an integrated approach for Standardisation, Innovation and Research," said Ketchell, "and is ready to respond to the new Commission innovation policy."

Door-to-door transport networks

At a second session on transport research, this one stressing the need for innovation in energy-efficient urban mobility, Thierry Van der Pyl, Director of the European Commission's Information Society Directorate-General (DG INFSO), called for a more systematic approach to the problem of getting people from A to B.

"More and more people are living in our cities," he said, "and they are all going places. The individual car is only a small part of the equation. The real question needs to be broadened; we need to look at patterns of movement, to look at the entire urban transport system. We need to come up with new multimodal solutions, integrating the most advanced communications tools, like the internet, with vehicles and mass transport services."

Dan Otteborn of the rail transport ETP,  ERRACexternal link, stressed the key role to be played by European rail systems in any overarching intermodal system for mobility. Sylvain Haon, Executive Director of POLIS, agreed: "Achieving the seamless network of transport services will require a much higher level of coordination among all of the transport modes." And this means greater coordination among the ETPs.

Call for coordination

Under the European Green Cars Initiative, three ETPs – ERTRAC,  EPoSSexternal link and  SmartGridsexternal link – have already been working closely together, issuing recommendations to help Europe seize the potential of electrified mobility for climate and resource protection, and creating opportunities for Europe’s automotive and energy industries.

At the door-to-door transport session, EPoSS' Günter Lugert explained how the ERTRAC/EPoSS/SmartGrids partnership should serve as a model of co-operation for other ETPs.

Making transport safer and more secure

The ETP conference also drew attention to the question of transport safety and security. Speaking at a session on this topic, Jean-Eric Paquet, Director of the European Commission's Transport and Mobility Directorate-General (DG MOVE), outlined a number of policy objectives, including decarbonisation, better transport networks and improved infrastructure, "with the highest levels of safety and security as a central component to all of these activities."

Aircraft wing © Peter Gutierrez
Air transport still getting safer
© Peter Gutierrez

Pierre Besse of WATER BORNETP discussed the major technical challenges involved in designing the next generation of safer sea vessels and called for new tools for hydrodynamic and structural analysis.

Meanwhile, Dominique Chatrenet presented an in-depth analysis of air transport accidents over several decades, demonstrating the enormous advances made in aviation safety, and he underlined the potential for further improvements by combining efforts and exchanging expertise with other transport modes. "We can still make further improvements," he said, "and we see a clear overlap of interests with other transport sectors and other ETPs that could have an impact on safety." Here, he included work on 'smart' traffic management systems.

Finally, both Chatrenet and David Storer of ERTRAC stressed uptake issues. "We have good systems today that are better and safer, but we need our users to buy these systems for them to have an effect." He pointed to a number of vehicle systems that are available but which have not been deployed to a great degree. Chatrenet said uptake of new safer systems is an issue for air transport as it is for the other transport modes, making it one question that could be tackled together, through co-operative arrangements between the transport ETPs.