Friday, December 24, 2021

 Dear Friends

Here's wishing you all a very quiet

Happy and

Safe Christmas 

with lots of Good Wishes for 


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The e- scooter invasion - A little detour about personal mobility*

This e-scooter casually leaning against a fence caught me by surprise


I saw my first electric scooter late on Friday night when my son rolled up on one after his office Christmas party. The e-scooters had only been launched in Hobart the day before. The next day on the way to town, I saw them everywhere. There they were – lounging outside the library, standing at attention outside the theatre and mingling in the mall. I even saw two people riding them. I would have jumped on one on the spot if I hadn’t had both hands full of shopping. I was quite chuffed though that our normally rather conservative city was giving them a trial. 


A Beam patiently waiting outside the theatre

Two companies are providing e- scooter services here – purple coloured Beam and  Orange Neuron and there around 300 of each. It looks like a fun, exciting way to get around our narrow, crowded streets, especially with summer coming on. Tasmania’s second biggest city, Launceston also has them, but only about 200 of each. According to the Mercury Newspaper, both cities clocked up 10,000 riders each in their first four days.

E-scooters have been proliferating in many European cities and the USA since 2017. Brisbane began the trend in Australia in 2018 and a number of other cities such as Adelaide, Ipswich, Townsville, Canberra, Ballarat, Esperance, and parts of Melbourne and Sydney have either started running trials or are soon to follow suit. When Lime began operating in Brisbane in 2018, it had 50,000 riders in its first two weeks. In the rest of the world US companies such as Lime and Bird quickly expanded throughout the USA and Europe, while Scandinavian companies such as Voi (Sweden) and Bolt (Estonia) expanded into distant cities such as Dubai, Tokyo and Shanghai. By July 2019 scooter companies had established themselves in over 100 cities.

One of the advantages of being a late starter is that you can avoid some of the pitfalls experienced by early adopters.

Mingling in the mall - pity there's no luggage compartment. Average cost in Hobart is around 45 cents per minute. Beam also has a $1 flagfall of which you get .50c back if you park it in a designated parking area.

The road to E-scooter happiness hasn't been entirely smooth

First movers have had to learn the hard way. By the summer of 2020, Oslo had 30,000 e-scooters, Stockholm had 23,000 and Copenhagen had 7,000. Increasingly there were complaints about bikes being abandoned on footpaths and concerns about the growing number of accidents and the risks to the elderly and the disabled. In Copenhagen twelve e-scooters were found in the river and one ended up in a rubbish bin.

In October 2020 normally bike -friendly Copenhagen banned all 13 companies which were operating in the city. This year it has relented somewhat, but has introduced a number of restrictions including only allowing hire firms which had physical premises and not allowing e-scooters within the CBD. Oslo capped e-scooters at 8,000 shared between each of 12 operators. London banned e-scooters in public spaces altogether though cities such as Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry are still giving them a try. Paris limited e-scooters to speeds of 20 mph and introduced heavy fines for poor behaviour. Helsinki banned night riding (midnight to 5 a.m.) to limit the likelihood of drunken patrons. Amsterdam has limited their use on public roads. 

These days companies wishing to operate in cities have learned to co -operate with local councils and focus more on those which have established bike paths for safer riding. Advances in technology have also made a difference. There’s no longer need for central charging and digital tracking means e-scooters aren’t being left around. Safety features include low speed for beginners, pedestrian and bad driver detection and not being able to park in a non -parking zone. At least one company gives you a discount for returning bikes to designated parking areas. If a rider goes too fast or into a no -go zone, the bike automatically slows down or ceases to operate. Helmets are compulsory in Tasmania and e-scooters are restricted to those over 16.

Safety studies conducted in Brisbane show that the number of accidents has gone down – there are about as many as for cyclists, as has the number of abandoned e-scooters. However, the laws in Australia still vary from state to state. Tasmania changed its road rules to permit riding on footpaths and on low -speed roads  i.e. Those with a 50 Kmph speed limit or less) while Victoria still doesn’t allow riding on footpaths. Melbourne is rightly cautious after its disastrous obike rollout in 2018 which resulted in piles of e-bikes cluttering up footpaths, ending up in the river and even up a tree and forcing the operator out of business, but it is allowing new trials in St. Kilda. Brisbane allows riding on footpaths but not in the CBD streets or main roads.

E-scooting into the future 

The latest and greatest advance is integrating e-scooter ride shares with Google Maps, showing where the nearest available e-scooters are located. Companies and cities are also working to link them with existing transport such as buses and trains so that people can travel seamlessly not just for that “last mile” between the office and the bus station or around the CBD to the nearest coffee shop, but from surrounding regions and eventually to other places, opening up mobility to those who live outside the CBD as well as sightseers and commuters.

Insurance for those who are injured is still lacking as are adequately separated transit lanes which would stop putting cyclists, motorists or pedestrians at risk. I personally would also like to see some provision for shopping bags -bicycle baskets or panniers perhaps, as I rarely come back from the city or the market empty handed. I am also fairly certain that the aim of our city fathers leaders in allowing e-scooters in the city is precisely to keep us there longer and spending money at local businesses. I read somewhere that every ten e-scooters generate one job and they certainly have novelty value.Son says they need to improve a lot of our footpaths if they want people to rely on them for commuting. Cracks and tree roots make for a rough ride.

On the environmental side they can be congestion busters and they can reduce pollution, but how green they are depends on their source of energy both when charging and in manufacture since these account for 95% of their emissions. Current research suggests that they are unlikely to take many cars off the road since trips tend to complement car and bus use, but according to Lime CEO Mitchell Price, as reported in the Australian Financial Review, if the shared e-scooters could be made to last longer – even just 2 years rather than one, and charged with green energy, multiplying that by 65 million trips in 25 countries would save around 8000 tonnes of CO2 or about the amount produced by 2000 cars in Australia over a year.

According to the same article most e-scooter companies have yet to make a profit, however, their fortunes are likely to change within the next year or two, whereas it took Uber twelve years to do so and Amazon about nine, proving that it's not easy to introduce whole new concepts, but once again, these are interesting times and this is just another of the great new experiments going on. Car makers and even petrol companies are taking note. Ford has acquired US e-scooter company Spin which has operations in 84 cities, towns and campuses, from Canada to Spain. BMW and Daimler have partnered with German E-Scooter Company Tier to include its Free Now app. BP has partnered with Italian e- scooter maker Piaggio for a big roll out in Asia and Europe. Meanwhile California's Bird, is doubling its fleet in the EU and elsewhere. India's car rideshare giant Ola is building out charging points exclusively for two wheelers and Dutch e-scooter company Go Sharing is expanding into Antwerp and Vienna. The list just goes on and on. Read more here.

*I haven't forgotten about decarbonising Big Ships, but thought the e-scooters might just be more immediately relevant to more people, unless you happen to be a shipping magnate. I you do happen to be a shipping magnate, don't worry, your post is coming up after Christmas along with aviation.

Stoppress: Heheh. Just attempted to ride a Beam. I haven't quite got the 'glide like a swan bit right yet.' Really annoying watching people do just that. My voyage was short and spectacular. It was on a steep uphill. First it wouldn't start, then a man yelled out from his ute." You've got to walk with it a bit, then get on!" As soon as I did that the scooter got out from under me and threw me in a ditch. I must have gone all of 40 metres, but I don't think I'll show you my war wounds. They aren't very pretty. But don't think I'm giving up. I just heard that they have e-scooter hoons in Canberra who do wheelies and donuts. I can only wish, but they must have more money than sense.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Shipping News - Greening the Seas 1. Battery and Hybrid Vessels

The E- ferry Ellen has been operating between islands in Southern Denmark since 2019. Although  it cost 40% more to build than conventional ferries it saves 75% per year in operating costs. It also saves 2,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere and is clean and quiet.
-Image by Erik Christensen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Problems and solutions

Shipping is responsible for almost 3% of global emissions which means around 940 million tons of carbon dioxide. However, the heavy bunker fuel used means that a single container ship also releases 5,000 tons of sulphur oxides (SOx) per year and sooty particulates which contribute to air pollution and are especially detrimental to human health. In 2008 shipping volumes totalled 900 million tonnes. By 2018 they had reached 3 billion tonnes which were carried by 60,000 ships, and that volume is set double on 2015 volumes by 2050.

Eighty percent of the world’s goods currently go by ship and can range from railway locomotives, to frozen food or bulk chemicals. Vessels also vary in size and can be cruise ships, ferries, tankers or container ships. As solutions go, no one size fits all. However, on a per tonne basis, shipping is still the one of the cheapest forms of transport and the costs per unit fall the bigger the ships are.

Battery Electric vessels (BEVs)

Smaller or short run vessels such as ferries, tugboats and supply vessels have benefited from advances in battery technology in automotive fields. Norway and other Scandinavian countries have been very much in the forefront of these developments but other countries are rapidly following suit. This is perhaps not surprising given Norway's rugged coastlines and seafaring traditions. After pioneering the first electric ferry in 2015, 60 were to be in service by 2021. It expects its entire fleet to be either fully electric or electric hybrid on longer routes by 2023.

  • In April this year New Zealand took delivery of batteries for an all -electric ferry service for East by West Wellington Ferry company. The supplier Michigan company XALT Energy has already provided battery systems for two hybrid ferries for the UK’s P&O company between Calais and Dover which will begin operation by 2023.

  • Also in April, Swiss company ABB supplied batteries for South Korea’s first electric ferry which will operate from the Port of Busan by 2023. South Korea expects that all 140 of its ferries will be running on clean energy by 2030.
  • Dutch company Corvus Energy is supplying batteries for five electric ferries being built in the Netherlands, the first of which was to have begun operating in North Sea Canal routes from mid 2021
  •  Finnish Company Wärtsilä is developing electric ferries to be built in the Netherlands for Norway’s Boreal Sjø. It has already designed hybrid tugs for Norway’s Atlantic Offshore and Sweden’s Luleä Harbour. Wärtsilä also has the technology to retrofit existing ships with hybrid capacity.

  • Another Norwegian Shipping company Norled, has commissioned three plug -in hybrid electric ferries from Singapore’s Sembcorp.

  • Battery electric ferries may soon be seen on waterways in Bangkok, New York and London. Norway of course has already had an autonomous one operating in Trondheim since 2018, the result of a Norwegian University of  Science and Technology project which has since developed into a commercial operation.

 Cruise ships

Until recently cruise ships and larger vessels were considered too hard to decarbonise because of their massive size and the distances they travel. However, in November 2020, Italian shipbuilder Fincanteri, began incorporating ABB electric propulsion systems into five cruise ships being built by the company. Although the ships will still use diesel, the move is expected to reduce fuel consumption and hence emissions by 20%.

  • Five days ago the world’s first LNG powered cruise ship, the Aida Nova, arrived in Hamburg. Although not electric and fossil fuel powered by Liquid Natural Gas (LNG), it still produces 40 -50% less emissions. 

Bulk carriers and Container ships 

  • On Nov 22, 2021, The Yara Birkeland, the world's first fully autonomous zero emission electric container ship completed its maiden voyage to Oslo. It has the capacity to carry 120, 20 foot containers and will be used to transport fertiliser from a production facility in the south of Norway, for shipping from Brevik in the north, thus cutting out approximately 8,000 truck trips. In even more good news, although government enterprise ENOVA had allocated up to €133.5 million for its construction, it only cost €25 million, the same as a conventional vessel. While it is undergoing testing, the new ship will be controlled manually. However, equipped with radar, GPS, cameras and sensors, it can navigate and dock by itself.

These are just a few snippets from an ever growing list to show how fast this field is evolving. Read more about sea -going electrics here. More on bulk carriers and container ships next time. This thread is already way too long


Thursday, December 09, 2021

GOOD NEWS ABOUT TRAINS - All Aboard for Greener Transport!

Alstom's iLint Coradia is powered by Hydrogen Fuel Cells. When the hydrogen is made with renewable energy (see below), they are Zero Emission transport. Expect to see a lot more of them around Europe in the near future

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

Rail is already the greenest mode of travel after bicycles, even more so if electric and run on renewable energy. For example, 100 tonnes of freight going 1000 Kms by train will produce 100 tonnes (75%) less CO2 than trucks travelling over the same distance. If it's so good I hear you ask, why isn't everything going by train? The European Union has been asking itself the same question. In 2006 it established the European Railway Agency to encourage rail transport and in 2011 it called for 30% of road freight to be carried by trains by 2030 and 50% by 2050. Despite a number of improvements, 75% of freight still went by road in 2018 and rail's share had actually fallen slightly to 17%. Rail travel is still only used by 8% of travellers and some 126 out of 365 former lined have been closed.  Some of the reasons for this are listed below, along with some possible solutions. Most of the following information comes from the Transport and Environment website. This is the group made up of 63 European environmental groups plus one each from Russia and the Ukraine as mentioned in the previous post.

Challenges and solutions

  •  Road transport is currently faster and more flexible
This is because road transport can go door -to -door as needed and doesn’t need to be scheduled in advance. The door -to -door aspect could be overcome with road freight agencies dealing with first or last mile only. Data sharing and collaboration rather than competition between agencies could greatly facilitate the process and reduce costs as would “Uberisation” of the sector.

  • Rail is often more expensive
In the EU there is still a surcharge on most lines for each kilometre travelled, whereas road freight is partially subsidised through diesel tax rebates. Truck drivers are often paid less depending on their country of origin. The Transport and Environment Group wants to change that by calling for tolls on road freight as it passes through various countries and for tachometers to be installed in heavy vehicles so that drivers will be paid the same amount for the same distance, regardless of where they are based. Eight countries have now introduced cross border tolls for road freight and Switzerland, which has one of the biggest rail freight sectors in the EU – 38% and 66% in the trans Alpine sector, has introduced driving bans and tolls on Road Freight which are used to subsidise its rail operations.
  •  Road Freight has lower capital costs
However, rail offers other benefits such as quieter, cleaner, safer transport not to mention enabling countries to better meet their emissions targets. It is already more cost effective for transporting large quantities of bulky goods such as coal, gas and petroleum over long distances.
  • Lack of interoperability
In Europe where there are extensive pre -existing rail networks, which have evolved independently they are often incompatible. For instance, some have different track gauges (as Australia does between states), others have different voltages, different pantograph designs, standards and signalling, all of which slow cross border services down. Unlike the airline industry there isn’t even a common language between them, so a train travelling from say, Holland to Italy, must either have a driver who speaks four languages or must change drivers along the way.

Because 50% of Europe's freight goes across borders, the European Union has established 11 rail freight corridors (RFCs) to facilitate cross border movements. It has also opened up rail travel to greater competition. The Green Corridors Program is an EU initiative which began as a trial in Sweden in 2010 to showcase efficient transport solutions which integrated road, rail and shipping as well as taking into account economic, social and environmental aspects. It is now being extended across the Baltic states and the EU. Railway authorities and lobby groups are calling for more harmonisation, more line electrification,  increased capacity for longer trains and the installation of a centralised traffic system. Through such initiatives it hopes to reduce lead times by 50%, increase punctuality by 95% and capacity by 50%. It also expects freight costs to fall by 25%. 


However, according to Lucy Gilliam, T & E's Aviation and Shipping campaigner, commenting on the EU's Year of Rail this year, it isn't always about expensive new infrastructure. Much could be achieved by having easier booking systems and modern IT solutions. "Upgrading commuter rail lines and deploying 21st Century IT technology may not be as sexy as new high speed lines, but they do provide better value for the millions of Europeans who rely on rail every day." See McKinsey and Comapany's October report for more simple ways to increase rail traffic.

  • Cultural change

New technology, automation and digitisation could also speed things up. Side loading trucks for example, would reduce the amount of time spent loading and unloading but automation is being resisted by unions. The European rail sector currently employs 90,000 people.  However, the fact that rail freight is likely to increase significantly in the next decade or so, means that fears about job losses may not materialise. With demand for coal, gas and petroleum products likely to diminish in future, job loss and mass unemployment are more likely if the sector fails to adapt to customer demands and seek more markets. Less parochialism and a wider concern for the EU (and the world) as a whole may also help. At present countries are often willing to pay for upgrades in their own jurisdiction, but are less willing to contribute to the greater good. 

As far as transparency goes, Transport and Environment suggests that simple measures such as adding GPS trackers to freight, digitisation and more collaboration between countries and the various actors, plus better communication with end users would also encourage greater uptake.

  • Competing against airlines for passenger transport

Air travel produces around 184 million tonnes of CO2 in Europe (4.2% of the total) with intra EU flights accounting for one third of this. Yet as far as passenger transport goes, rail travel produces an average of 77 times less CO2 over distances under 250 Km. For this reason, many European countries are trying to discourage short haul flights in favour of rail or opting for 'polluter pays' principles.

With 2021 being the Year of Rail, France recently announced that it would ban flights between cities where rail connections are available that take less than two and a half hours. 

Austria has put a 30 tax on flights under 217 km and banned flights which can be completed by train in under 3 hours.

The Netherlands has tried to impose similar bans since 2013. However, a 2019 ban on flights to Brussels from Amsterdam was found to be illegal under the EU’s freedom of movement rules.

 Future Trends

In the USA where there is a 40% reliance on rail for freight, economies of scale are possible both through standardisation of lines and through having much longer trains. US trains are allowed to be 3 Km long whereas the maximum in the EU is 1 Km. This represents a saving of over 1/3 of the cost. The effects are self  re -enforcing. Cheaper rail means more companies will use it and greater volume means cheaper and or more frequent service. While most US trains still run on diesel which not only produces high emissions but is subject to price volatility according to the price of oil, both the USA (see below) and several European countries are trialling battery -electric trains including Stadler (Swiss), Siemens and Alstom (both German).  

Stadler already has orders for 99 of its trains which run on both batteries and overhead wires. Alstom's battery electric is ideally suited to places which do not have electrified overhead wires. The Bombadier Company's Talent 3 developed in conjunction with several partners and support from the German government, was the first battery powered train to go into passenger service in 2018. Thirty -two such trains have now been ordered for the Tyrol region between Austria and Italy.  Siemen's 31 battery electric trains which will be operating on the East Brandenburg network from 2024, will save 4.4 million litres of fuel, produce zero emissions depending on the electricity mix and reduce regional CO2 emissions by 11,500 tonnes.

In California, BNSF and and WABTEC have just launched the pilot program of their battery electric train.


Alstom (see above) also has hydrogen fuel cell trains operating in Sweden, Germany and France and has orders for 400 more. Denmark has just ordered 100 of them which are scheduled to begin service in 2024. When run on ‘green hydrogen’ – i.e. that made from renewable energy, such trains will have zero carbon emissions. Fortunately Australia, Namibia and India are leading the charge to produce hydrogen from renewable energy. For more information on how it works see the video in this article by the ABC.

At this stage hydrogen is still more expensive than fossil fuels and the infrastructure for it is still largely absent – even for long distance trucks, but this will become even more important for other forms of transport such as shipping and aviation and also for use in energy intensive industries. Still, we are witnessing the birth of a new industrial revolution - a green one, where new players and coalitions are emerging and with fortunes to be made by those who succeed. This is just as well because we are in a race against time. 

Next: Good News in Shipping and Aviation, subject to some diversions without notice!