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Mission Focus: Transport

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The transport system is in urgent need of innovation to mitigate climate catastrophe. Road, freight and aviation all have a substantial part to play in the drive to net zero. Read on to learn more about why transport is one of the focus areas for Zinc’s next Venture Builder: transforming the industries that have the most impact on our environmental crisis.

Transport and Global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions

Modern societies are built around moving people and goods faster and further than ever. All those deliveries and journeys, many technological marvels, are having a profound effect on our climate. The transport sector—including road, rail, freight and aviation—accounts for 16.2% of global emissions. Despite a brief reduction in some emissions due to the pandemic, the growth of passenger and freight activity continues more or less unabated and threatens to outweigh all mitigation measures.

Of these emissions, 73% come from road transport, of which 60% is from passenger travel and the remaining 40% from road freight. 12% of emissions come from aviation, which is much more heavily skewed towards passengers (81%) than freight (19%), and international travel (60%) than domestic (40%). Shipping accounts for 10% of transport emissions. Rail, which is largely powered by electricity, is the one sector whose emissions have shown year-on-year decline, and sits at approximately 3% of total transport emissions. (The final 2% comes from the transport of fuel and commodities through pipelines).

As we often see with global emissions, the main polluters are upper-middle and high-income countries, with 53% of global transport emissions (in 2014) coming from just 10 countries: US, China, Russia, India, Brazil, Japan, Canada, Germany, Mexico and Iran. But little solace can be taken even from this identification. Although demand per capita in developing and emerging economies is currently low, it is expected to rise at a much faster rate in the coming decades along with rising incomes and the development of infrastructure.

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image by skyler smith via unsplash

Cleaning Up Transport

Decarbonisation of the transport sector is needed urgently, and has the potential to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable future for everyone. That is why transport is one of our four focus areas in Zinc’s next Venture Builder, with its mission to transform the industries that have the most impact on our environmental crisis. Despite the scale of this challenge, it can be done without sacrificing the interconnectedness of the modern world.

Electrification is key to abating emissions. Due to the scale of its current emissions, electrifying the whole road transport sector could reduce global emissions by as much as 11.9%. Battery-electric vehicles are becoming more common, and with necessary improvements in the charging infrastructure it is hoped they will be cost-saving by as early as the end of the decade. Still, a shift from petroleum to battery-electric vehicles is likely too narrow and conventional a target, so reducing the demand for car travel, as well as encouraging a shift to other modes such as active travel and shared rides will also be crucial to reducing emissions.

Unsurprisingly, given the rise of online shopping, van travel is the fastest growing transport sector, increasing by 71% in the UK since 2000. A shift to small electrified vehicles such as e-cargo bikes and micro-vehicles for the ‘last-mile’ delivery in cities is one option. Along with full electrification, there is also the possibility of utilising data analytics for improved logistics and consolidation, which has the potential to reduce emissions while alleviating congestion.

As PwC’s recent State of Climate Tech report points out, shipping is a highly polluting yet frequently overlooked sector, responsible for nearly 3% of global emissions. 90% of world trade relies on the sector, and so it is facing increasing calls to decarbonise. Despite barriers to entry such as the monopoly nature of the industry and lack of current regulatory incentives, there is scope for innovation in fossil fuel reduction through electric vehicles and fuel-saving technologies such as hydrofoils and auxiliary wind propulsion.

Zinc’s Approach

At Zinc, we do not claim to know where the next climate innovation will occur. Our approach is to bring together talented, diverse teams who spend months exploring these problem areas from every angle, supported by a multidisciplinary Research and Development team. It is through this multidisciplinary, problem-centred approach that we find innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social problems. Ventures will receive up to £250,000 investment to propel their business, as well as access to Zinc’s network of 100+ Visiting Fellows: experts and advisors from business, academia, design, technology and the public sector. Join our next Venture Builder to transform the transport sector through early stage innovation.

“The future of mobility will be shaped by behavioural evolution as much as urban design and planning.  High frequency data at scale from embedded intelligence in vehicles and infrastructure will be key to fuelling predictive analytics and simulations of future transport scenarios.  I’m pleased to be working with Zinc on this important initiative with venture-backed pioneers that share our vision for breakthrough innovation with data.” Geoff  McGrath – MD, CK Delta (Zinc Visiting Fellow)

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The transport sector includes, aviation, rail, road and water, as well as through domestic, international, passenger and private means. Do you know someone working in this sector? Or people with engineering, urban planning or technological expertise that want to make a difference in this industry? Help spread the word by sharing the mission manifesto, encouraging people to sign up to a meet and greet, or click here to apply.

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