AET: Making Transport Ultra Efficient
Imagine the urban guideways of the future -- freeways in the traditional sense no longer exist -- where vehicles zip along in energy-saving platoons like cycling teams and Nascar drivers. The energy to power them comes from antennas embedded in the pavement that use magnetic resonance coupling to drive the electric motor and recharge the small traction battery. The vehicles communicate with each other and the rest of the traffic system, maintaining safe distances and speeds, without driver intervention.
Yes, we know that dream has been around for decades, but the pace of technology, along with concerns for energy availability and environmental overload, is helping shove society down what can be a more sustainable transportation future. That's the vision that has moved Utah State University Energy Lab Executive Director Jeff Muhs to explore the concept of Automated Electric Transport.
"Think of this as the next step beyond plug-in hybrids," Muhs (pronounced like mousse, the dessert) told EV World recently.
The concept is to better match electricity as an energy carrier and electric vehicles as physical carriers of people and their goods.
"You go from the traditional hybrid, to a plug-in hybrids to a "wireless" hybrid and eventually to an all-electric system.," he explains, adding "we don't want to predetermine the architecture. I realize that keeps things a little bit vague."
He points out that if you are going to do "wireless" energy transfer, than you might as well also enable the vehicle to be self-guiding. Taking that a step further, if the vehicle is self-guided and doesn't need a driver -- at least on major arterials and interstates -- then it could become part of a community owned resource.
One of the first possible applications of an AET system wouldn't be commuter-focused, but on moving goods -- logistics -- more efficiently through the system. Muhs sees a dedicated guideway/roadway linking a seaport or air cargo terminal and a distant distribution center. A Long Beach, California company, Balqon, will be selling its electric container hauler this Spring. Install a dedicated lane and power it using magnetic resonance, and drivers would find their productivity improving. So would commuters who would find the road empty of trucks.
Ultimately, the goal is to merge the efficiencies of conventional rail with the flexibility of modern freight and passenger vehicles.
In the second half of the interview (approximately 18-minutes), Dr. Muhs shifts focus to eLab's second interest, biodiesel made from oil-rich algae. To illustrate the enormous potential of "pond scum", an acre of soybeans will produce about 50 gallons of biodiesel annually, Muhs estimates. A comparable area of land would produce approximately 10,000 gallons of algal biodiesel per acre per year.
"An area the size of the Great Salt Lake would produce enough [fuel] to run all the diesel trucks needed in the United States to move freight around."
"It sounds good on paper," he added with a note of caution. "There are a lot of technical challenges associated with it, and a lot of issues."
To find out what those challenges are, as well as the issues, and what the two schools of thought are about growing and using biodiesel fuel made from algae, you'll want to download the compete 34-minute interview, available to EV World Premium subscribers. Or you can listen to it live using either of the two MP3 players in the center column above.
Here's a teaser. How soon does he see algal biodiesel reaching commercial scale? At least another three to five years.