As almost every year, the family and I went to the Alps for one week skiing vacation in mid February. The preferred choice for us is to go by coach. We can minimise the environmental impact and get less energy use and less carbon dioxide emissions than for example by going by car, air or rail. There is no inconvenient reload of luggage or change of vehicles, simply door-to-door delivery. We also appreciate the time to relax with our friends and travel mates before the skiing starts.
My wife Carina and me (in my infamous long “Zebra coat”) skiing in the Tofano slopes of Cortina d’Ampezzo.
This year we travelled by a double decker coach, unlike previous years. I noticed some double decker drawbacks that were tough to cope with: Firstly, the over four meter high bus moved like a camel and swung from one side to the other in a way that made it really hard to maintain the head in one position, when trying to sleep, secondly the temperature of the rear part of the top floor where I sat, was literally freezing cold (the frost on the inside of the windows added some flavour to the challenge) while the lower floor experienced sauna like temperatures.
We stopped four times for filling up the tank, i.e. more frequent than every 500 km. I don’t know if the frequent tanking was just an excuse for shifting drivers frequently or if it was an effect of little space for the tank and high fuel consumption due to high aerodynamic drag. Do I need to say that it was not a Volvo coach?
I enjoy skiing very much and the skiing in Cortina was excellent. The first five days we had a lot of sun. The temperature stayed below zero and the slopes were hard but there was no ice. In the highs we found some powder. The last two days we got a lot of new snow that added some flavour to an excellent week.
When is the next bus to the city centre, I asked myself.
In my home town, Gothenburg, the internet service for time tables is really convenient for planning the journey and for choosing the fastest routs. I find the on-line real time information at the bus stops even more useful. The next bus is displayed and the real time to wait is displayed. Whenever my express bus from Kungälv is delayed, I can with some efforts take a detour and reach the my work with some 10 minutes delay, rather than the 30 minutes that would have been the consequence without the detour.
I find the real time internet service particularly useful in the winter, when I can avoid waiting in a snow storm, by checking the potential delay before leaving the office.
Volvo bus offer together with our partner Consat, ITS4mobility, an information system that use the open communication interface of all bus brands. It is therefore easy to integrate on existing fleets with all sorts of buses, trams and trains. The Intelligent Transportation System, ITS4mobility, supports real time passenger information both for display at the bus stops and on the internet and on mobile phones by WAP.
The fleet management, allows the operator to keep track of all buses and redirect traffic in case of disturbance. Important information is generated to assess the priority of different routs in the daily traffic. All to the benefit of time keeping.
Nowadays I don’t need to speculate, the real time system tells me when the next bus appears.
Today, a Swedish study affirmed that biogas is the most environmentally friendly fuel. Last week, another study stated that it is more environmentally friendly to run the vehicles on fissile fuels than bio fuels. Last month, a third study of “Green Protectionism in the European Union” claimed that the subsidies for sustainable fuels is a threat to the free trade and that it disrupts the market to less environmentally friendly fuels “such as ethanol or biodiesel”. How come that different studies come to such different conclusions?
When reading different studies the scope varies a lot.
If you put the question which fuel is the most environmentally friendly for buses? You can put a boundary just looking at the usage on the bus and find that the efficiency of the engine and the emissions varies for different fuels. Sometimes different vehicles are compared but very rarely the use of the fuel in sectors outside the vehicle sector is considered.
In a similar way the fuel production can be put in relation to other useful products with another environmental impact. Depending on how broad the scope is very different conclusions are achieved.
The figure depicts different boundaries and scopes leading to different conclusions when the environmental impact is analysed. In general the darker the box the less frequently the aspect is considered in the literature. Very rarely the most efficient use of the money is analysed.
It should be noted that the answer is not converging to one “optimal” answer the broader the scope is. For example biogas made from waste may even have a positive impact since the waste would generate methane that is considered to have higher impact than the carbon dioxide resulting from the combustion of the biogas. But, with a limited availability biogas comes out as favourable for all vehicles and all power generation. Could it be that it is more efficient to use the biogas in a combined heat and power plant?
To refer to the provocation in the title, it is not obvious what is most sustainable when it comes to fuels. A hypothesis say that farmer will grow what ever gives them the highest income. In the same way raw material for bio fuels and other bio based products compete on the same market. Simultaneously the energy market is essentially global and the market price for oil and coal, being the most mobile energy, sets the boundaries for the energy price.
Therefore the use of bio fuels needs to consider all potential use of land, energy and biomass to derive to a reasonably consistent conclusion considering the potential sustainability.