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Balancing growth and sustainability in the travel and motor industries

In the UK, the transport sector is responsible for about a third (33%) of all greenhouse gas emissions . On a global scale, if aviation was a country, it would be in the top ten worst emitters .

The travel and automotive industries are among the most notorious for their damaging effect on the environment, and for good reason.

With both airline passenger numbers and the international vehicle population increasing significantly year by year, the industry’s impact on the planet is growing dangerously.

Without legislation, it is incredibly difficult to convince people to cut down on travel, so it’s crucial that efforts are made to make transport more sustainable, or at least offset the damage it is causing. Below we run through some of the companies doing just that.

Offsetting the jet-setting

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has set the aviation industry the target of flying one billion passengers on planes powered by sustainable fuel by 2025. Considering that in 2017 the figure stood at just 100,000 passengers, this is an ambitious goal, but one that, if achieved, would go some way in improving the situation.

However, many believe that simply using alternative fuels isn’t a radical enough measure to reverse the damage. While electric and hybrid-fuel powered planes would certainly reduce the sector’s impact on the environment, it is believed that the widespread deployment of such technology is still a long way off.

We will continue to use a carbon-based fuel. We don’t see a credible alternative. It’s going to be some time until we see an electric or hybrid-electric plane.

Willie Walsh Chief executive at IAG, the parent company of British Airways

What Walsh’s airlines, and some others across the industry, are focusing on instead is the concept of carbon offsetting. Rather than focusing on the emissions produced by flights, offsetting involves companies investing in projects which reduce the amount of greenhouse gases created elsewhere. If a flight generates 250kg of carbon dioxide, an offsetting scheme would aim to reduce the planet’s overall emissions by an equivalent amount. This could involve planting trees, capturing methane or building green energy plants.

It’s a controversial approach, as it doesn’t actually reduce the amount of gas the aviation industry sends into the atmosphere, but the idea is that the planet’s overall emissions remain stable.

More direct approaches

However British Airways is investing in a different sustainable project which should help to cut emissions. The airline has announced plans to open a plant in Lincolnshire that will convert household and commercial waste into fuel for its planes. Such an initiative is predicted to transform over 500,000 tonnes of waste into fuel each year.

As well as helping to tackle the issue of landfill and plastic pollution in the UK, this form of sustainable fuel is also meant to cut the amount of soot produced by planes by 90%. British Airways hope that such a project will help them meet the industry target of carbon-neutral growth by 2020.

To reach this industry-wide goal, Delta Airlines is taking a slightly different approach. As well investing in around 50,000 carbon offsets, it has launched a new app for its pilots, which intelligently monitors weather conditions to inform them when they can burn less fuel. Typically planes waste a lot of energy in their search for smooth air, but by identifying areas of turbulence, the app helps pilots to fly more efficiently. Delta report that the technology has helped to reduce its overall carbon emissions by 80,000 metric tonnes a year.

Encouraging the electric revolution

Whilst fully electric-powered commercial flights might still be some way off, electric cars are already a reality and are starting to grow in popularity. In the UK, annual registrations for electric vehicles have increased since 2013, up from 3,500 to over 225,000 in 2019. These cars produce significantly fewer emissions than regular vehicles, especially if the electricity comes from renewable sources, so their rise in popularity is great for the environment.

However, despite the dramatic growth, electric cars still only represent 3.8% of all new vehicle registrations in the UK, so there is still lots of room for wider adoption.

One of the major barriers blocking further expansion is drivers’ concerns about the logistics of owning such a vehicle. While charging points are growing more prevalent across the country, they are still less common than traditional petrol and diesel stations and electric cars need ‘refilling’ more often than their fuel-powered counterparts. The government is investing in infrastructure to support electric cars and is offering financial incentives for those who install charging points in their homes, but more work needs to be done to persuade the nation that they are a viable, attractive option.

Electreon – the Israeli road technology company – thinks it has the solution. Rather than forcing drivers to stop and plug in their vehicles, Electreon plans on installing systems which allow cars to charge as they are being driven. Such an initiative would involve placing electrical coils under roads, which wirelessly send power to receivers placed on the underside of cars and charge the batteries. Noam Ilan, Co-founder and Vice President for Business Development at Electreon, said: “This project has the potential to move the electrification revolution to mass implementation”.

The dynamic wireless electrification system not only means electric cars have to stop less often, but they can also operate with smaller batteries as they don’t need to store massive amounts of energy at any one time. This makes the vehicles lighter and duly cheaper and more efficient.

Early trials in Israel have proved successful and now both Sweden and the UK have signalled their intention to invest. Sweden is aiming to spend $3billion on building more than a thousand miles of electrified high-speed roads, while Coventry is set to be the site of the UK’s first public ‘E-Lane’.

Such experiments will begin with buses, due to the predictable nature of their journeys, before later involving other vehicles.

In Milton Keynes, eight electric buses are already being powered wirelessly in trials managed by Mitsui-Arup joint venture MBK Arup Sustainable Projects. They also use the process of electromagnetic induction, but charging points are currently only placed in bus stations, rather than on public roads. However, even at this minimal level of deployment, the method is reported to remove about 270 tonnes of CO2 each year from the atmosphere.

Future Innovation

The innovations outlined above are just of the attempts being made to reduce the travel and motor industries’ alarming impact on the environment. Most of the new technologies have succeeded in making the sectors more sustainable, but work needs to be done to enable such developments to be made cheaper and more accessible.

Such innovations qualify companies for the government’s R&D Tax Credit scheme, which allows eligible businesses to claim back up to 33% of their investment in research and development. The initiative is designed to encourage UK businesses to invest in innovation, so they can continue to help both the country and the planet overcome substantial environmental challenges.

Innovative companies are playing their part to preserve our future, let’s find out how we can help support your journey and your business. Speak to our team to find out how we can support your next idea.