Revving up greener transportation with research alliances

Revving up greener transportation with research alliances

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, global carbon dioxide emissions from transportation increased 45 percent from 1990 to 2007. By 2030, transportation emissions will increase by approximately another 40 percent. Road emissions dominate transportation sector emissions, with light-duty vehicles accounting for the bulk of emissions globally.

Both our transportation technology and our approach to how we get door-to-door are in urgent need of innovation, and this means that multiple, diverse stakeholders must come together to advance knowledge and develop solutions.

Enabling sustainable transportation requires a holistic approach. It’s not just addressing the modes of transportation we use to travel; it’s the behavioral, economic and policy framework that comprises our transportation system.

Public/private research partnerships offer a unique opportunity to convene diverse areas of expertise to address sustainable transportation.

Alcoa, one of the world’s largest aluminum producers, is taking a convening role to increase sustainability in transportation and other areas through its Alcoa Foundation Advancing Sustainability Research: Innovative Partnerships for Actionable Solutions initiative.

Alcoa Foundation invested US $4 million to support non-proprietary research across five continents, engaging universities, NGOs and research institutions to increase knowledge and develop actionable solutions. Areas of focus for ASR include global sustainability issues such as transportation, climate change, energy consumption and water management. Conducted throughout 2012 and 2013, research will be widely shared to spur development and adoption of best practices.

A key aspect of ASR is fostering the next generation of sustainable innovation --which not only means new knowledge and fresh ideas, but emerging leaders in sustainability. Through projects that engage students in research, ASR and its academic partners are helping to weave sustainability into higher education and integrate the development of sustainable solutions into the way the next generation approaches various disciplines. This has enormous benefits for the students, the organizations they will touch in their careers, and the industries and communities that will benefit from the solutions they help develop.

Two of Alcoa Foundation’s academic partners are addressing sustainable transportation through a combination of basic and applied research. The foundation’s partnership with The Ohio State University Institute for Materials Research is designing a new class of light vehicle structures with reduced weight, improved fuel efficiency and recyclability at the end of the vehicle’s useful life. The project is developing, refining and testing methods of joining aluminum, magnesium, steel and composites. These new designs will increase mileage, passenger safety, vehicle handling and longevity. Researchers are also experimenting with rearrangement of components, to allow for mass customization at reduced cost. Ultimately, the partnership between Alcoa Foundation and OSU will lead to a new class of economically competitive light vehicles with short logistic chains, which can be manufactured in the markets where they are used.

Alcoa Foundation is also supporting SMART (Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation), a university-wide initiative housed at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. SMART’s research focuses on accelerating implementation of “new mobility” -- integrated, multi-modal, IT-enhanced and sustainable systems of transportation -- to provide safer, more convenient and cost-effective door-to-door trips. The research, which focuses on Beijing and Detroit as the pilot cities, aims to generate sustainable community-wide and regional solutions for mobility and accessibility, leveraging new business models and creating green job opportunities.

More information on these programs and other efforts supporting sustainable innovation is available from the Alcoa Foundation.

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Matt Brest will be among the speakers at VERGE DC next week. Joining him in a panel discussion on "Urban Mobility and Sustainable Transportation" will be Susan Zielinski, managing director of SMART, and Glenn Daehn, professor of metallurgical engineering at Ohio State University. More information about VERGE DC is available here.