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The New Era Of Sustainable Transport Has Just Begun

Graphic Courtesy Will Gatchel

It’s hard not to make puns when discussing how fast sustainable transportation is growing. This rapid growth rate isn’t fueled by just a single factor but rather a whole lineup of reasons worldwide. 

Car brands are racing to make the best-performing (and highest-selling) electric vehicle (EV), the aviation industry is flying straight into a new era of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), and global governments are pushing away from fossil fuels to adopt more climate-friendly regulations on EVs, airplanes, and other types of transport. 

So, what does this growth mean for the future of transportation? 

Well, for one thing, it means we haven’t seen the bulk of changes that will come.

Think about it this way: automobiles were invented in the late 19th century, and although they were mildly popular in America during the first half of the 20th century, cars only became widely adopted starting in the 50s. 

For reference, Tesla was founded in 2003, and the first test flight with SAF occurred in 2008. This information is not to say that the current EVs on the market (or in development) are destined to fail. It just means that the transportation landscape as it stands today will be much different a year, or two, or 10 from now. 

In the past year alone, various startups, investments, and innovations have shown just how much sustainable transport, from EV parking structures to plane fuel, could change.

Pittsburgh’s Vertical Parking Carousel

Video Courtesy Stak Mobility

While not the flashiest innovation in the world of EVs (see Pininfarina’s multi-million dollar Batman-based releases), startup Stak Mobility’s vertical parking structure in Pittsburgh could be a game changer for city-based parking and EV charging. The firm’s automated, open-air parking carousel is extremely compact, fits up to 42 cars, and offers charging for each spot. 

Parking carousels and structures that vertically stack (and store) cars are not new technologies. However, Stak Mobility claims its design is the first to equip every spot with EV charging capabilities. In addition to Pittsburgh, the startup has completed projects in California, Florida, and South Carolina, with more structures on the way. 

Honda’s $11 Billion EV Value Chain

Photo Courtesy Honda

Japanese car maker Honda has lagged behind some competitors in the shift to EVs, but it’s now racing to catch up. After releasing its first all-electric SUV in North America earlier this year, the Honda Prologue, the company made headlines more recently by announcing an approximately $11 billion (CAD 15 billion) investment into its EV value chain in Canada. 

The carmaker aims to build a full, end-to-end EV production process. Honda is aiming for the value chain, which will start with raw materials and end with completed electric cars, to begin actual production in 2028. 

A Zero-Emission, Heavy-Duty EV Startup

Photo Courtesy Windrose Technology

The final ground-based entry in this listicle is Windrose Technology, a startup that surprisingly (considering the name) doesn’t develop wind-powered or rose-powered EVs but rather electric heavy-duty trucks. Proving that the firm’s name probably didn’t matter to investors, Windrose raised $110 million in investments in its Series B financing round in April. 

The startup’s zero-emission long-haul trucks have gained steady traction in the EV world due to their range and charging claims. One feature that stands out? Windrose states that its first truck model can recharge roughly 250 miles of range in 36 minutes thanks to its 800V fast-charging system. 

Blue Skies For SAF

SAF is not a single, specific fuel but a broader term meant to describe any aviation fuel derived from non-fossil ones, typically biofuels sourced from plant or animal waste. The innovation has been around for less than 20 years and shows signs of threatening to replace conventional, petroleum-based jet fuels. 

From Software To Renewable Fuel

Photo Courtesy LanzaJet

Microsoft’s Climate Investment Fund has put money in LanzaJet, a SAF technology and production company founded in 2020. Although it might seem an odd pairing on the surface, the deal will give the software giant access to LanzaJet’s sustainable fuels, helping Microsoft cut its global carbon footprint.

It’s not the first interaction between the two firms, with the Climate Investment Fund having invested $50 million in 2022 to help build the SAF startup’s Georgia-based construction facility. 

UK Commits To Sustainable Aviation Fuel 

SAF is taking flight not just in North America but across the Atlantic Ocean, as well. The United Kingdom’s government recently announced that 10% of all jet fuel in flights departing from the U.K. must be sustainably sourced by 2030. 

The goal was set as part of its SAF mandate, which is still subject to parliamentary approval. Whether it passes or not, the U.K. is showing its airline industry that biofuel is an undeniable part of its future, like when it helped fund the world’s first commercial transatlantic flight fueled 100% by SAF late last year. 

Southwest Buys SAF Startup

Southwest Airlines invested in SAFFiRE Renewables, a U.S. Department of Energy-backed project in 2022, and it must have liked the returns because it acquired SAFFiRE early last month. Short for Sustainable Aviation Fuel From Renewable Ethanol, the North Dakota-based startup specializes in creating ethanol corn stover, a waste feedstock that can be made into SAF. The purchased project will become part of Southwest’s recently launched investment portfolio, Southwest Airlines Renewable Ventures. 

The Future

While these investments and startups obviously differ in impact, quantity, and scale, they all offer glimpses into the different possibilities of sustainable transport. Whether that future brings corn-based jet fuel, automated vertical parking carousels, or something still yet to be invented, they all mean one thing — there’s a lot of change to come!


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