Batteries won’t cure all of Scotland’s transport ills

The Scottish Government is to be lauded for its fantastic ambition in decarbonising our energy consumption – and transport has a very big part to play.

Moving from A to B accounts for around 25 percent of Scotland’s emissions, and we all need to think hard on how we can radically reduce this impact in the decades ahead.

The family car of the future will no doubt be electric. However, this will take time, and even the most recent forecast predicts that plug-in models will only be ten percent of global car sales by 2030.

More challenging are big, heavy vehicles, which account for around 30 percent of our transport emissions and have much bigger power demands.

Buses, trucks, trains and off-road vehicles all have daily energy requirements far in excess of what the batteries of today can provide.

Take off-road vehicles. These big machines (think diggers, forestry equipment and farm vehicles) are immensely power-hungry and often operate in remote locations without easy access to the electricity grid.
The average digger, for example, would burn through five Tesla batteries a day – and at £20,000 each, the batteries would cost far more than the digger.

Trains present a challenge too. Although some of Scotland lines have been electrified, the majority have not, and the high capital costs means we (and most of the world) will be with the diesel unit for years to come.

Of course, in an ideal world we would have new low-carbon fuel sources, or could rely on, for example, hydrogen. But thus far hydrogen remains prohibitively expensive (demonstrator buses cost more than €1 million) and will rely on significant public subsidy in the years ahead.

So, diesel is here to stay – for a number of years to come.

It is not all gloom, however. On a more positive note, there are massive opportunities to take a different, more cost-effective route – by radically improving the efficiency (and thereby reducing the fuel consumption) of existing diesel vehicles.

And here in Scotland companies such as Artemis are coming up with novel solutions to do just that.
In 2010 we did a study with ScotRail which showed that, on the standard Fife commuter route, between 65 and 73 percent of a train’s energy is lost through braking and transmission inefficiencies.

Working with Lothian buses, we’ve found around half of a bus’s energy is wasted through cooling fans and as heat in the brakes; whilst with diggers, a staggering 70 percent of the engine’s power is lost as heat in the hydraulic system.

What if we could drastically reduce these losses through a proven, Scottish, home-grown technology and find a low-cost route to a greener future?

Well, the good news is we can.

At Artemis we are working with a number of multinationals to rethink the way diesel vehicles work – and to replace outdated transmissions and hydraulics with new, computer-controlled digital hydraulic pumps and motors, using a technology we have been developing for over 20 years.

This is not just theory.

We are currently piloting this new breed of digital hydraulic technology in a project with ScotRail, and are already seeing significant fuel savings. We believe future iterations will deliver 30 to 50 percent energy savings in some cases – and position Scotland in the vanguard of a new technology.

This new class of digital hydraulics will be subsidy-free, and will offer customers a payback in two to three years.

And we are now in talks with manufacturers across a number of sectors to bring this technology to market.
Of course, the idea of improving diesel efficiency through digital hydraulics does not sound nearly as snappy as what Elon Musk might have to say.

But if it reduces Scotland’s 2030 emissions in the lowest cost way, and gives Scotland another feather in its low carbon cap, then it surely is an idea worth exploring.