Episode 8: Fuel for thought

Alternative energy sources

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Adam's Weekly Blog

Future transport

Future transport

My journey around the world has taken me on lots of different forms of...
My journey around the world has taken me on lots of different forms of transport. I have travelled into the Amazon in a four-seater plane, into the Israeli desert by camel, through China by bike and by speed boat through the islands of Scotland.

This time I have arrived on a bus in a town called Gumi in South Korea. Normally these buses are powered by petrol or diesel which is very polluting. Sometimes they are powered by electricity but that is difficult and involves huge charging stations, plugs and it is very cumbersome. But that is beginning to change.

The world desperately needs highly productive energy sources that do not emit toxic pollutants or greenhouse gasses. But our predictions about the future of fuel have often been wide of the mark and that is because the energy debate is itself one of the most energetic and fast moving of them all. More than that, it is also one of the most crucial for the future of our planet.

To find out how they have ditched the mess normally associated with electric vehicles I went on the maiden voyage of the latest in electric vehicles with the President of OLEV (online electric vehicles) Mr Young-won.

People are used to wireless internet connections and this bus takes that approach and applies it to wireless power charging. As it comes to a bus stop and whilst passengers are boarding, the bus waits over a special panel in the road. In the minute or so it has stopped, the bus quickly picks up a wireless electric charge from the generator under the road.

It is not a massive charge, but it is enough to get it to the next charging station. So with a charge at the bus station and regular top-ups along the route, the bus can be fully electric and fully wireless along its whole route.

One of the problems with this system is that it involves a lot of new infrastructure. That cost the company $2m, an investment they think will get back in five or six years.

The new system will save the company, they say, about 75% on their fuel bill, cutting it from $4,000 to $1,000 a month. But the finances are only part of the calculation.

OLEV say this technology means the bus creates zero greenhouse gas emissions. Of course that over estimates its environmental benefits because whilst there may be no kerb-side emissions, generating the electricity that is used to charge the busses, creates its own pollutants.

Nonetheless, the company claims this system results in a 70% cut in greenhouse gases compared to the diesel or gasoline buses it is replacing.

OLEV have been working on the technology for just five years so it Is still very much in the early stages. But the innovations on the number seven bus in Gumi in South Korea will hopefully help add to the mix of answers we need to solve the big energy questions facing the world in the decades ahead.
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