Building the World

March 22, 2020
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ENERGY: A Sabbath for Earth?

Image: Manhattan Bridge, New York, without traffic. Image:wikimedia

Does it take a crisis to cause change? Since the coronavirus pandemic pushed the global pause button, emissions of CO2 have fallen by 50% compared with the same time last year. A drop in methane has also been noted. “This is the cleanest I have ever seen New York City,” noted Professor Roisin Commane of Columbia University and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. It’s not just clearer skies over the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge. Cities across the USA including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle are notably improved. Benton MacKaye, proposer of the Appalachian Trail, and Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of Central Park in New York and the “Emerald Necklace” series of linked parks in Boston, shared the vision of a city that can breathe. Parks help but may not be enough. Can we learn from the global pause to create new options to aid the environment?

Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” view of the Fens. Image: wikimedia.

European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite shows atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide, due in large part to car and truck emissions, were lower over Los Angeles, a city with some of the highest smog levels. Descartes Labs, a geospatial analysis firm, reports that quantifying effects of the global shutdown on pollution will encourage more study. INRIX, a research firm monitoring traffic data from vehicle and telephone navigation systems, reported that roads were seeing a 70% improvement in congestion and on-time arrivals. Far from an escape, space is proving to be a viewing window to see Earth as a system.

ESA Sentinel-5P. Space gives us an eye on the Earth. Image: wikimedia.

While any environmental improvement, even if short-term, is beneficial, this shut-down is not the answer to climate change. Traffic will rebound eventually, and the devastation of public health, the suffering of the afflicted, and the economic wounds of the shut-down will be serious. But meanwhile, can we use the period of the coronavirus to find ways to reemerge from this time with a new plan? What aspects of telework will prove viable? Some experts are calling for periodic pauses to give the Earth a Sabbath.

Ball, Sam. “Cleaner Water, Cleaner Air: The environmental effects of coronavirus.” Includes video. 20 March 2020, France24.com. https://www.france24.com/en/20200320-clearer-water-cleaner-air-the-environmental-effects-of-coronavirus

Commane Atmospheric Composition Group. https://atmoscomp.ldeo.columbia.edu/

European Space Agency (ESA). “Coronavirus: nitrogen dioxide emissions drop over Italy.” https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-5P

McGrath, Matt. “Coronavirus: Air pollution and CO2 fall rapidly as virus spreads.” 20 March 2020. BBC.com/Science & Environment.

Plumer, Brad and Nadja Popovich. 22 March 2020. “Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronoavirus.” 22 March 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/22/climate/coronavirus-use-traffic.html?referringSource=articleShare

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unpo

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March 9, 2020
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ENERGY: Shaping the Future

Image: photographer Andrew MacMillan. wikimedia.

Electric vehicles are dependent upon batteries both for power and for design. That’s why General Motors’ recent announcement was a double break-through. A $20 billion investment in electric cars comes from a new kind of battery. Traditional EV batteries are a certain shape, determining the contours of a car. But GM’s new batteries can be stacked sideways, or even around curves, because the powerhouses are “soft, flat pouches.” (Valdes-Dapena, 2020). Tesla, by contrast, uses a hard cylinder. GM’s Ultium power cells may lead to curvy designs. Another advantage: Ultium uses far less cobalt that traditional EV batteries, significant because cobalt is becoming increasingly scarce. Finally, Ultium hits the desired metric: below $100 per kilowatt hour, the price point where electric cards are competitive with gasoline engines. According to estimates, electric vehicle sales in the USA will grow to 3 million units by 2030. Next-gen batteries enable driving ranges of 400  (and soon 600) miles. Longer range electric power means more highway trips, perhaps causing a redesign of the U.S. Federal Highway System, the Canada/USA Alaska Highway or the Pan-American Highway for a regional vision that could include a sportsway, maglev or hyper loop, in addition to vehicular paths. General Motors is partnering with LG Chem. With flexible batteries, look for different shapes to come.

Beresford, Colin. “GM Unveils Battery with Capacity Twice as Big as Tesla’s.” 4 March 2020. Car and Driver. https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a31226611/gm-ultium-electric-vehicle-battery-revealed/.

Beresford, Colin. “GM, LG Teaming Up to Build Batteries for GM’s Future EVs in Ohio.” 5 December 2019. Car and Driver. https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a30141005/gm-ev-battery-factory-ohio-lg/.

Valdes-Dapena, Peter. “GM’s new electric car battery tops Tesla’s.” 5 March 2020. CNN.Business. http://www.cnn.com/2020/03/04/business/gm-electric-car-battery-400-miles-of-range.html/ 

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December 20, 2019
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TRANSPORT: Steering USMCA

“Chevy Corvette Stingray Z06 at Detroit Auto Show,” 2014 by Tuner Tom. Image: wikimedia

United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA), a sequel to Nafta, offers a unique opportunity to combine two goals: net zero energy and regional connection. Call it a vehicle for change or a road to the future, USMCA could build a transport system connected in more ways than one. Macro visions require large-scale cooperation on natural, financial, and human resources: a USMCA charging-ready highway, combined with shared manufacturing of electric vehicles, could transform the region. The new “Nafta” agreement demands cars and trucks be 75% built (increased from current 62.5%) in Canada, United States, and Mexico. Another increase: 30% (then 40% by 2023) of vehicle labor from workers making $16 per hour.  The United States House Ways and Means Committee issued a Summary.

Canada, United States, Mexico: building a connected region. Image: wikimedia

Will the United States Federal Highway System, with its network of gas stations, become a nexus of charging stations and special lanes, perhaps extending to Canada and Mexico? Ford Motor company is launching FordPass, a charging initiative like that pioneered by Ionity. Should the Alaska Highway, partner road of Canada and USA, be a cooperative network to power new transport?  The renewed Nafta, USMCA, signed by Canada, Mexico, and United States, offers an opportunity to meet net zero goals and build a regional connection unique in the world.

Will USMCA lead a new era of safer, cleaner transport? “Steward-Cassier Highway, Canada” Bruce McKay, 2008. Image: wikimedia.

Ford Motor Company. “FordPass Charging Network,” https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2019/10/17/ford-introduces-north-americas-largest-electric-vehicle-charting-network.html

Lobosco, Katie, Brian Fung, and Tami Luhby. “6 key differences between NAFTA and the USMCA deal that replaces it.” 17 December 2019 CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/10/politics/nafta-us-mexico-canada-trade-deal-differences/index.html

Long, Heather. “The USMCA is finally done. Here’s what is in it.” 10 December 2019, The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/12/10/usmca-is-finally-done-deal-after-democrats-sign-off-heres-what-is-it/.

Ways and Means. United States House of Representatives. “Improvements to the USMCA.”December 2019. https://waysandmeans.house.gov/sites/democrats.waysandmeans.house.gov/files/documents/USMCA%20win%20factsheet%20.pdf.

United States of America, United Mexican States, Canada. “Agreement between the United States of America, the United Mexican States, and Canada 05/30/19 Text” https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/united-states-mexico-canada-agreement-between.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unpor

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July 20, 2018
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Two paths diverge: road or rail?

“Night lapse of the 401” by Kennymatic, 2008. Image: wikimedia

Road ahead? Concrete decisions may determine the future of cities. Many urban centers are opting for surface transport: whether fuel-powered or electric, whether driven or driverless, whether bicycles or pedestrians, the future looks paved. Rome built its legendary roads with a special concrete strengthened by a mix-in of volcanic ash; in modern times, basaltic rock has shown to be effective carbon dioxide absorbent, turning the unwanted gas into stone so hard it’s being used to build roads, and towers. So settled on surface are some cities that even New York City, where the subway is in need of expensive repair, may consider just paving over the tunnels for underground vehicular lanes. It was in 1939, at the World’s Fair, that General Motors showcased the concept of “magic motorways” and in 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower, when returning from Germany where the general had glimpsed the Autobahn, opened U.S. Federal Highway System for bidding.

Buffalo Metro Rail Station, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, New York. Image: wikimedia commons

Rail, known to be the fastest and most environmentally efficient way to move people, and goods, may be better. Las Vegas is betting on light rail: the $750 million project will bring trains along a route named the Maryland Parkway; real estate development is planned to link, and the stops will include Sunrise medical area and UNLV. It can be noted that former UNLV president, Don Snyder, serves as chair of the community advisory group. Then there’s the Windy City, where a plan to run a Chicago HyperLoop to O’Hare Airport, inked by Mayor Ron Emanuel and HyperLoop Advocate Elon Musk, may zoom from midtown to out of town in just 12 minutes.

Transport systems are expensive, and need to be rebuilt when in disrepair. Many existing roads and bridges are crumbling in highway systems that need repair. Cities have the power to determine transport: linking public transit to affordable housing, or community educational and medical facilities, must be part of the plan. The United States may spend a considerable sum to rebuild American transport infrastructure; what is your vision?

Badger, Emily. “Pave Over the Subway? Cities Face Tough Bets on Driverless Cars.” 20 July 2018. The New York Times.

Marroquin, Art. “Light-rail line could spur development along Maryland Parkway.” 19 June 2018. Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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December 8, 2017
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Electricentric MWay

Monterrey to Memphis to Montreal: Electricentric MWay? Image: Khaled, Wikimedia Commons.

Ford Motor Company is taking a right turn. The Michigan automotive manufacturer reversed a decision: instead of closing a plant in Mexico, they’ll dedicate an assembly line to build electric vehicles in Cuautitlán, near Mexico City. The EVs were originally slated to be built in Michigan, but now the Flat Rock plant in Detroit will build driverless vehicles, for sale in 2021. Nafta explorations are in progress: should a macro plan for a North American network of charging stations from Monterrey to Memphis to Montreal be sketched, and inked? Call it the MWay? Ionity set an example in Europe. What would the charging stations look like? When the United States Federal Highway was built, gas stations were planned. In fact, a Bostonian named Howard Deering Johnson made a fortune selling ice-cream at service stops and plazas on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes. Would McDonalds be the sponsor of the MWay? Nafta now has a singular opportunity for a strategic system of electric and autonomous vehicles, using regional advantage to rebuild a continent.

Boudette, Neal E. “Ford Will Build Electric Cars in Mexico, Shifting Its Plan.” 7 December 2017. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/07/business/ford-plant-electric.html

Colias, Mike and Tim Higgins. “Production to Mexico, Tags U.S. Plant for Driverless Car. 6 December 2017. Wall Street Journal.

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November 10, 2017
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Charging the future

Image: Devin sportscar, 1962. Will 2062 see a new model at one of Ionity’s charging stations? Image: wikimedia.org

Automakers BMW, Daimler, Ford, and Volkswagen will share equity in a new venture, building a network of charging stations for electric cars. Ionity, the joint venture, plans to install 400 units across Europe by 2020. Why? Most drivers charge their electric vehicles at home, using a 7-kilowatt-hour plug suitable for overnight charging. Ionity’s network, located along highways, will be faster: 350 kilowatts per hour. When cars catch up (presently, 50 kilowatts per hour is max capability), Ionity’s network will power up autos in ten minutes, while drivers stop for coffee. Another benefit? One plug fits all vehicles. When the U. S. Federal Highway was built, gas stations and related services expanded the economic value of the route. Similarly, Ionity will install their equipment in existing gasoline stations. Headquartered in Munich, and building the first stations in Austria, Germany, and Norway, Ionity opens for business in 2018. Electric cars are still a small segment of the vehicle sector: improving energy infrastructure will expand market share, charging the future.

McHugh, David and Geir Moulson. “Carmakers join forces in Europe to make electrics widespread.” Associated Press/Chicago Tribune, 5 November 2017. http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-bc-eu–germany-electric-cars-20171103-story.html. 

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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August 11, 2017
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Grid Luck

Denmark, state banner from 14th century, location of world’s first vehicle-to-grid (V2G) commercial charging station. Image: wikimedia commons.

Batteries in electric cars could help to balance the grid. In 2017 electric vehicles drew 6-terawatt-hours; by 2040, draw will expand to a predicted 1,800 terawatt hours. Tokyo-based automaker Nissan is conducting trials in Denmark where car fleet operators earn $1,530 (€1300 Euro) per year via two-way charge points. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) infrastructure could be a sign of the future. Major highway systems take note.

It may be time for a systems view of electric vehicles, predicted to account for 54% of new car sales by 2040, Electric cars will transform highways like the U.S. Interstate Highway system – more than 45,000 miles, and even more dramatically the service areas nearby. Should the Pan-American Highway, 30,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina, be the first to offer a network of V2G? Canada and the United States could rebuild the Alaska Highway for a new era. On a local level, commuter rail stations are adding charging stations; shopping centers are dotted with ChargePoint and Tesla pods. Every one of these installations is an opportunity for rebuilding the automotive energy system.

If the Nissan/Enel/Nuvve commercial vehicle-to-grid hub of 10 stations proves successful, Ernesto Ciorra of Enel predicts: “With V2G we can enhance grid stability, further enabling the integration of renewables. V2G is one of the sustainable innovation areas that is taking us towards a low-carbon society for the benefit of present and future generations.” As the number of electric vehicles increases is the future of gridlock, grid luck?

For more:

“Parked Electric Cars Earn $1,530 From Europe’s Power Grids.” By Jessica Shankleman, 11 August 2017, Bloomberg.https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-11/parked-electric-cars-earn-1-530-feeding-power-grids-in-europe

“Nissan, Enel and Nuvve operate world’s first fully commercial vehicle-to-grid hub in Denmark.” Nissan Newsroom Europe, 29 August 2016/ID: 149186. http://newsroom.nissan-europe.com/eu-gb/media/pressreleases/149186

“Electric Cars Will Total More Than 50% Of All New Car Sales By 2040,BNEF Forecasts.” By Steve Hanley.  CleanTechnica, 6 July 2017.https://cleantechnica.com/2017/07/06/electric-cars-will-total-half-new-car-sales-2040-bnef/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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May 12, 2017
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Mothers Walk for Peace

Image: Photographer, Rebecca Eschler, 2008. Wikimedia commons.

A higher purpose, above ground; a safer world, below. Why not send cars and trucks underground, where new roads for autonomous vehicles might be easier to build? Elon Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX fame, envisions cars positioned on platforms that descend to traverse networks below ground. A similar design was earlier suggested by David Gordon Wilson of MIT whose palleted highways would increase speed and decrease accidents. Tunnels have changed transport around the world: the Channel Tunnel and the Mount Blanc Tunnel are recent examples. Boston depressed the Central Artery, resulting in a Greenway atop with a special park called the Mothers’ Walk. Nearby, walk towards a better world with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute for the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace. Will Elon Musk’s underground highways promote a cleaner, safer environment with more parks above where people can walk and nature flourish? It’s an exciting idea with a name that belies the innovation: The Boring Company.

For more: mothersdaywalk4peace.org

For Elon Musk, watch the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpDHwfXbpfg

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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March 10, 2017
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Bridge to the Future

Bridges to the future: in the next 15 years, the world will build more infrastructure than is currently on the planet. Photo: “Gaoliang Bridge: The Summer Palace” by Hennessey, wikimedia commons.

Rebuilding may characterize the next era. Bridges, roads, rail, energy, and water systems are in need of an upgrade. There is so much backlog in the United States, costs are estimated at $4.6 trillion by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon states it’s not just the United States, or even North America. Global infrastructure needs an upgrade. History suggests a few guidelines. Focus on projects; jobs will follow. Target both macro and micro: on the grand scale, choose iconic projects of national (or regional) impact; on a micro scale, concentrate on towns and local improvements that can be seen in four years. Government allocations should not focus on profit (certain infrastructure pays for itself in tolls, as Charlemagne proved, and such ventures can be public/private), but on rights and commons. Consider creation of a national clearinghouse where states and cities can learn from each other (such as the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership program). Some of these suggestions are offered by Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute, and others by Michael Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust in their recent announcement: “Helping mayors do their job.”

Felipe Calderon adds: “There’s evidence that 1% of GDP spent on infrastructure can lead to a 1.5% increase in GDP within 4 years. But, given the rate at which greenhouse gas emissions are accumulating, the type of infrastructure we build matters more than ever. Building a solar plant is better than building a coal plant. Building light rail is better than expanding a highway. Solid flood defense systems can hold back rising seas. We will be building over the next fifteen years more infrastructure than currently exists on the planet.

Global infrastructure investment, over the next 15 years, is expected to reach $90 trillion. It’s an opportunity for structural sustainability perhaps unprecedented in history. Can we build the bridge to a better future?

For more: “America’s Infrastructure Scores a D+” American Society of Civil Engineers, Infrastructure Report Card. http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

Bloomberg, Michael R. and Drew Gilpin Faust, “Helping mayors do their job.” The Boston Globe, 25 August 2016. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/08/25/helping-mayors-their-job/1HblR7a4hKsQMJEbXmnAgP/story.html

Calderon, Felipe. “Global infrastructure needs an upgrade.” 7 October 2016. CNN. http://money.cnn.com/2016/10/07/news/economy/felipe-calderon-oped-us-infrastructure/index.html

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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March 18, 2016
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8 billion hours

Traffic jam in Beijing, 2005. Image: wikimedia commons.

Americans spend 8 billion hours a year stuck in traffic. When the Federal Highway System was built, roadways did not anticipate the lure of the automobile and individual transport. China’s traffic is legendary; Beijing’s 50-lane stall resulted in a film. Aging infrastructure, bridges and roads, present both a danger and an opportunity. As transportation systems are replaced and improved, should solar highways be considered, or lanes for autonomous vehicles? What about filling stations that offer flexible fuel options including electrical charging? Will new transit forms including the Hyperloop transform commuting, reclaiming and returning those 8 billion hours?

Watch a traffic jam in Beijing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3kL6nMap2s

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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