The weekend science ticket. Energy on the move: carbon-free energies, a challenge for the transport of tomorrow

With the health crisis helping, are we going to put in place multiple solutions to reduce the environmental impact, with carbon-free energy stored on board vehicles. (Illustration) (SI-GAL / DIGITAL VISION VECTORS / GETTY IMAGES)

Transport is still responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Faced with ecological concerns, there are multiple solutions to reduce the sector’s environmental impact, with carbon-free energy stored on board vehicles.

In rail, trains use electricity supplied by overhead lines, which are themselves supplied, if possible, by electricity produced without emissions. The problem is that, even if 80% of the passengers of the SNCF network use electrified trains like the TGV, this only concerns half of the network, or 15,000 km.

Switching to all-electric would be the solution, but it is very expensive. Diesel or hybrid engines are currently used, which must be made less polluting.

Hybridizing our trains is the first project we have launched. Remove half of the diesel engines and replace them with batteries. We believe that this is not a single solution that will allow us to do without diesel, but a range of solutions, with two major technological components: the battery and the production of electricity by hydrogen.

Vincent Delcourt, director of energy innovation projects at SNCF

The hydrogen, which powers fuel cells, makes it possible to be both energy self-sufficient and not to emit polluting emissions. It is an initiative of the French Alstom, which is starting to be adopted by the regions in France, but also abroad.

Drawing of a car running on hydrogen in a service station of the future.  (Drawing)
Drawing of a car running on hydrogen in a service station of the future. (Illustration) (HIROSHI WATANABE / DIGITAL VISION / GETTY IMAGES)

However, expensive hydrogen filling stations will have to allow access to vehicles other than the train to cushion the costs.

Start building gas stations that serve trains, stations that are road junctions from which buses, taxis, cars can leave. You are starting to have hubs that make it possible to make stations of a substantial size and therefore less expensive.

Pierre-Étienne Franck, former vice-president of Air Liquide

This week, MEPs voted to abolish domestic flights when there are alternatives by train of less than 2.5 hours. However, aviation has no shortage of ideas for short journeys.

We can imagine that quickly over relatively short distances such as transversal for example, we will have 20 to 30-seat planes that are 100% electric.

Yann Barbaux, President of Aerospace Valley

For short and medium-haul aircraft (less than 1,500 km), it will be necessary to wait until 2035 to have probably hybrid electric engines. Flying higher, the example comes from space, 400 kilometers above sea level, in the international space station, where some 2,500 m2 of solar panels provide all of the energy on board. And further still, 60 million kilometers away, on Mars, the Perseverance robot also uses a mini nuclear power plant to explore the red planet.

Let’s keep our feet on the ground. In our cities, cycling is developing and the Post has even acquired hydrogen bikes for our letter carriers!

The hydrogen bicycle is a classic electric-assisted bicycle, but which incorporates a fuel cell. The major advantage is the reloading time: 2 minutes for 100 kilometers.

Christophe Bruniau, former commercial director of Pragma Industries

As for cars or utility vehicles, we can bet that within 10 years, gasoline and diesel will have given way to high-performance batteries and affordable hydrogen. In urban areas, we could finally breathe without particles, especially during pandemic periods.

We can even go so far as to imagine cell phones with mini fuel cells that will soon allow record autonomy!

These small devices boosted with hydrogen would then have more than a week of autonomy, that’s a dream! Connected or transported, society must be energetically accessible to as many people as possible and environmentally responsible.

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