Blue Skies Turn Green

10 08 2007

Urban Core International BlogMost of us have been on at least one flight in our lives, boarding a massive jumbo jet that burns thousands of gallons of fuel to soar through the sky. What you might not know, is how quickly those jets, the companies who build them, and the companies who fly them, are changing industry standards to become more and more sustainable.
Remarkable developments from Boeing began with the design of the 787 Dreamliner, a jet whose creation was based onBoeing 787 Dreamliner the principles of efficiency, sustainability, and for sheer economics. The Dreamliner makes use of new technologies in carbon composites, meaning, its body is comprised of almost 50% carbon fiber (the same materials they use to make the Corvette). Why the change in material? It results in using 20% less fuel per mile than a similar plane!

Super Jumbo A380 Airbus is also looking towards efficiency but thinking in different areas. Their newest plane, the Super Jumbo A380 (and yes, it’s big enough to deserve the name “super jumbo”) carries up to 853 passengers. It does this by eliminating class configurations, and making the entire plane economy class. The typical 3-class configuration would yield 555 seats, making quite a difference in the amount of passengers that travel on a gallon of fuel. Eliminating class configurations helps efficiency without even thinking about the way the plane is built, the engine used, or the amount of gas consumed.

Both companies are looking to a new type of engine to aid them in the transition to greener skies. The Open Rotor engine isgebe.jpg a tail-mounted engine that combines the speed of a normal jet engine with the efficiency of a turbo propeller engine. This does make the flight a little bit slower, but it makes it a lot more efficient. The propellers on these new engines are not housed inside casing, which is why they must be mounted on the tail. Interestingly enough, this produces an added side effect of making the plane more aerodynamic. It turns out that wing-mounted engines interfere with lift surfaces on the plane, meaning you need more energy and hence more fuel to get the plane off the ground. Engineers look to combat this by blending the wings and the body of a plane, a design first adopted by the military in creating the B-52 bomber, which can travel remarkable distances without refueling because of the greater amount of lift surfaces. Having the tail-mounted engines helps increase these lift surfaces, meaning commercial planes will also be able to go further without refueling.

What about the engine makers themselves? A little research shows that GE’s eco-imagination is constantly at work. The new GE90-115B engines ecomagination.jpgare remarkably efficient, so much so that a fleet of 16 twin engine aircrafts powered by these new engines emits 141,000 fewer tons of greenhouse gases than the traditional four engine configuration. Those amount of greenhouse gases equals the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by 35,000 acres of forest. To try visualizing just how large of an impact that is, it’s about twice the size of Manhattan Island!

As jet makers lean towards efficiency, the airlines themselves are hopping on board. American Airlines enacted an environmental fuel savingAA Logo program to shut off one engine when the plane is taxiing to an airport gate, or when removing heavy food service galleys from the plane. One engine may not sound like much, but when spread across the fleet of a company as large as AA, it leads to anywhere between 60 – 70 million gallons of fuel a year saved!

Richard BransonRichard Branson of Virgin Atlantic Airlines is committed to sustainability in the air and on the ground. Not only was Virgin among the first to purchase the new Boeing Dreamliner, but they also power all of their key office sites through renewable energy.

It’s not only industry giants hopping on board. A smaller company (though by no means small) called EasyJet is reducing theirEcoJet carbon emissions in the air and on the ground as well. While Virgin purchases alternative energy credits, EasyJet is buying carbon credits through UN certified providers to offset the emissions they create from the operations of their planes. In fact, the amount of carbon credits purchased is directly related to the number of flights, distance traveled, and fuel burned by the company. They are also in the process of designing the EcoJet, based on the principles of the Boeing Dreamliner, which they believe will cut carbon dioxide emissions a whopping 50% by the year 2015. This is truly remarkable.

Truly, some innovative ideas and new technologies are coming to light in the airline industry. From the fiberglass body of the Boeing Dreamliner to the efforts of Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic’s commitment to alternative energy, the skies are forever changing, and for the better. If there’s one thing that’s clear, its that eco-imagination is constantly hard at work!

Co-Authors: Josef Newman + Aaron Newman, Urban Core International 


Trains and Monorails and Trolleys, Oh My… But Ultra Light Rail?

9 08 2007

Urban Core International BlogToday’s post continues on this week’s transportation theme. A few days ago we posted an article about electric cars and it got us thinking – what about electric forms of mass transportation? So we started researching, and found some of the most interesting new developments we’ve come across in quite some time.

One project being researched in California (among other places) caught our attention through its innovative use ofULR - Ultra Light Rail photovoltaics – the solar powered ultra light rail. Ultra Light Rail? We’ve heard of trains, subways, monorails, light-rails, trolleys, but what exactly is an “ultra light rail,” and how do they keep it powered using only solar energy? Great questions have great answers. The ULR (ultra light rail) is a smokeless, noiseless rail-based mass transit system. The technology behind the design comes from great advances in solar racing car technology (like the NASCAR of alternative energy). Each train car in the ULR holds between 20 – 40 passengers seated in a fashion similar to the design of a roller coaster. The cars themselves are teardrop shaped to allow for maximum aerodynamics. Designers of the train are aiming for a weight of 100lbs per passenger, and this might just be one of the biggest advancements they’ve made, considering that even new light-rail systems have a weight of 2000lbs per passenger. This is key, as the significant weight reduction means it requires less energy to propel the system forward, and also to stop it. Here is the icing on the cake – each car is equipped with 160 square feet of solar panels, providing 2kw hours of power, which translates to 3HP. Thinking that’s not enough to power the train? Your absolutely right, which is why each of the train stations that the rail stops at are equipped with 1000 square feet of solar panels, providing 10kw of energy that recharges the ULR’s batteries every time it makes a stop!

JPodsTwo other solar powered transportation systems we found being researched are JPods and the Vectus PRT (PersonalVectus PRT Rapid Transit). These two systems share one thing in common that differs greatly from the light rail system. In these systems, the size of the “cars” are much much smaller, carrying 2 – 4 passengers instead of 20 – 40. Why the difference in the way designers thinks? The designers of these smaller cars are seeing the time and energy wasted stopping an entire train when only a few people need to get off at a certain stop. By making the vehicles smaller, they can move people around more efficiently.

For any skiers out there, JPods look similar in style to the larger ski lifts with enclosed carts. They run on a track system that is built in the sky, from which they hang down. Other than the futuristic look of JPods, what makes them so interesting is the track that they hang from is lined on top with solar panels that powers the pods. Because of their small size, a JPod at full weight capacity going 30 mph uses a mere 6 kW of energy!

The Vectus PRT system looks more like a miniature subway cart that runs on a rail system. The cars are powered by a linear induction motor, or in more simple terms, a multi-phase electric motor that instead of producing torque (rotation) like a typical engine, it produces a linear force along its length. Its brakes are magnetic. The designers of the PRT write that the system can travel as fast as 60 mph, and the capacity of the line can handle between 4800 and 5760 passengers per hour, which is pretty significant. Unfortunately not too much information is available on the Vectus PRT. Their website has a nifty flash video, but it’s in Korean, so I cant understand what’s being said. (If anyone does speak Korean and has a chance to listen to the video, an informal explanation would be greatly appreciated!)

photovoltaicsSo with all these new technologies and great new designs, what does it all boil down to? We believe electric motors can and will replace gas motors. As photovoltaics become cheaper and more efficient, is it not reasonable to believe we will power our electric motors with the energy of the sun? We believe that we can and we will. The systems we went through today are certainly quite a few years away from being a reality, but let’s not forget we said the same thing about hybrid cars years ago – and we all know how quickly that changed. The bottom line: mass transportation is a necessity, so is alternative energy. When you put them together, the blending of the two sounds like an obvious success.Thomas Edison with Electric Car

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait ’til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” – Thomas Edison

Co-Authors: Josef Newman + Aaron Newman, Urban Core International

Automobile Dependence, Break The Habit

8 08 2007

Urban Core International BlogIn keeping with this week’s transportation theme, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing automobile dependence and ways to break the habit. Many people own a car or truck because of convenience, but none of us like the side effects – traffic, increased travel time, increased emissions, and smog. In today’s post we analyzed a few of the ways to reduce automobile dependence. Note that not every idea works in every situation, but certainly a combination of ideas can help us all in someway.

Automobile dependence is a result of the segmentation of residential, commercial and industrial zoning. Naturally, one way to fight that is to change zoning laws and traditional methods of planning. Two types of development / land plans that come to our minds are the TND (Traditional Neighborhood Development) and the TOD (Transit Oriented Development.)


TNDs are specifically designed to be compact, pedestrian-oriented developments. The neighborhoods are internally oriented, which helpsCut from a New Town support the local commercial industry, lessening the need to leave the community and hence lessening the need to get back in the car. There are many aspects of the TND that help to reduce automobile dependence. Firstly, traffic signals are set to shorter intervals. This creates more frequent gaps in traffic for mid-block pedestrian crossing. The density of a TND and the close proximity between zoning types also makes the neighborhood more walkable. One interesting design technique used in TNDs is the reduction of the curb radii. This helps to make cars slow down more when turning, but has the added bonus of shortening the amount of time a pedestrian has to spend in the street in order to cross over.

FruitVale VillageTODs share similar benefits to TNDs using similar design strategies, but base their neighborhoods on public transportation such as a trainBART system. Some similarities include pedestrian friendly, walkable design, high-density development, and of course the integration of various zoning types. These “Transit Villages” focus on the train system to reduce automobile dependency as much as possible. Some of the most interesting transit oriented development can be seen in California, where the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) has been instrumental in partnering with developers to create smart, well designed TODs. Personally, we were impressed by FruitVale Village, a mixed use TOD featuring several hundred thousand square feet of retail, office space, and affordable rental apartments all centered around the BART train station. The great zoning mix give residents easy, pedestrian access to shops and businesses in an area once described as having a shortage of friendly streets.

Some might wonder, what can we do in already built out areas that don’t have the room for redevelopment? Are there options available besides creating new developments? The answer of course is yes.

One creative solution, which is actually a design credit in the LEED rating system for sustainable developments, is to incorporate bicycle racks and showering / changing facilities on the ground floor of buildings. The bicycle racks make people feel more secure leaving their bicycle unattended, which in turn makes them feel more comfortable riding a bicycle around.

ZipcarWhat about those who need a motor vehicle? One interesting solution we saw is Zipcar, a company that will rent you a car by the hour or day. They feature cool cars like the Mini and VW Jetta, and include all gas, insurance and designated parking spots in their price. Members of Zipcar are provided with a Zipcard, which when placed near the door of the car will unlock the car. From there you simply start the car, go where you need to, and return the car to the designated parking spot when you’re done. This type of business makes car ownership hassle free, and reduces the need for owning a car alone.

All of the solutions discussed in this entry are viable in different communities and for different people. We all know the side effects of automobile dependency, and most of us only have to spend about five minutes in traffic before we start wishing there was another way. With so many viable solutions around, the only step left is to find the one that’s right for you and make the change. Like they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and reducing automobile dependency is certainly no exception to that rule.

Co- Authors: Josef Newman + Aaron Newman, Urban Core International

Vroom Vroom!

8 08 2007

Urban Core International BlogFrom guest blogger, Stefani Newman, Founder of

I was talking with my friends over at Urban Core International recently, when they mentioned they would be writing a “transportation” themed week for their blog. With all the talk about hybrid vehicles and low-emission gas/electric cars, I thought it was important to take a look at another form of transportation and how it’s been evolving – for kids. As a mom of two children under five years old, I believe that their exposure to goods and products early on to will set the stage for the decisions they make as adults. This includes what they eat, watch, read, and play with. Regarding ride-ons and bikes, you used to only be able to buy plastic, unattractive things with scary faces, loud noises, or other .Fortunately, now there are a lot more choices to provide children with more natural, innovative, and modern ways to lean how to ride a bicycle…

My favorite ‘non-bike’ bike for kids is LIKEaBIKE. It’s exactly what the name implies – it’s “not a tricycle, not a toy car, not a bike withLIKEaBIKE stabilizers, not a scooter…it’s LIKEaBIKE!” This ‘bike’ without pedals still somehow manages to be a ‘bike’, made out of a sturdy, laminated beech wood frame, and steel rimmed pneumatic tires. The company likes to call it a ‘walking bike,’ but after your kids get used to it, they do anything but walk with it. Kids have to rely on themselves for balance and control, a huge skill that they can start to master around two years old. Once they get the hang of it, watch out! LIKEaBIKE is a great design, with various colors and textures for the seats so you customize the bike for your unique kiddie. You can adjust the seat to fit kids age two through five, and their new models include a ‘racing bike’ and an aluminum bike that weighs only 8 lbs!

SvanThis scooter made by Svan, another innovative children’s company known for their high chairs, has a great indoor scooter for kids starting at 18 months. It’s main purpose is to also to help kids learn balance and coordination while having fun. There are no handlebars, but kids instinctively hold the scooter in front of them, naturally keeping their backs straight. My older daughter, who is shy about trying new things, literally jumped on this scooter at a store, and was riding it like a champ in five minutes. Then I couldn’t get her off! The scooter is beautifully streamlined, and made of lightweight yet solid birchwood, with caster wheels that won’t leave marks on your floor!

I also love the Plasma Car, a great investment for both younger and older kids. This funky-looking car also has no pedals, but uses “thePlasma Car natural forces of inertia, gravity, centrifugal force, and friction” to power the car and move. Your child just sits on the car and starts to move the cool steering wheel. They gain momentum from their own movement, and they are totally amazed when the car starts to move, just from them! This car goes fast, and is super-quiet – not to mention looks like it came from outer space.

These pre-bike and bike alternatives are a great starting point for kids to learn how to rely on themselves for movement and play. It also helps them forge a love for bikes that can take them into adulthood. And the best part? They don’t know that they’re exercising!

Transportation Anyone?

7 08 2007

Urban Core International BlogMy brother and I have been talking a lot lately about the changes and progression of the auto industry and the release of all these new awesome electric or hybrid vehicles being produced. And, of course, which one we would get and when…So, we thought we’d spend this week talking about transportation and some of the different alternatives out there. Please feel free to chime in at any point, let us know what you think and, of course share your great ideas.

As alternative energy becomes more and more important, we see its effects all over the world. More and more homes are producing energy on site, and more utility companies supplementing traditional power with solar and wind installations. It seems that now we are seeing alternative energy leap into a new industry – automobiles. Hybrids cars such as the prominent Toyota Prius come to most peoples mind, but there is much more available today than there was a few years ago.

Hybrids are certainly a great step in the right direction, like the new “HyS” scooter from Piaggio, makers of the Vespa scooter, whose hybrid“HyS” scooter from Piaggio engine gives it up to one hundred and seventy miles per gallon. The scooter itself recharges on a standard 220v outlet, and can travel up to twelve miles on electricity alone! What truly makes this bike so unique is the control the driver has over the engine; a unique switch allows the driver to choose to optimize mileage, performance, battery charge, or any combination.

Other interesting developments in the scooter world are coming from a company called eGO Vehicles, makers of entirely electric scooters whose use is devoted primarily to short distance errand running and local commuting. EGO VehiclesThese entirely electric scooters have a range of up to 25 miles with cargo room built into the back, allowing people to easily run local errands and run around town without burning gas. This may not serve for a road trip, but it certainly cuts down local emissions rates, keeping your air cleaner at home.

What about long term travel? Those who need more than short range? New developments in cars and trucks by a company called ZAP will prove to be the future. ZAP is a company that designs a wide array of hybrid and fully electric vehicles, from cars and pickup trucks to ATV’s and dirt bikes. Of the many products they provide, all of which are not only efficient but also incredibly stylish, one has the potential to revolutionize its industry. ZAP collaborated with Lotus engineering, and the results wereZAAP-X phenomenal; the ZAP–X crossover electric car. If its range you want then its range you get, up to 350 miles on a single charge. Is speed more your speed? You’ll find it with a potential 644 horsepower engine propelling you 155 m.p.h! An electric car with that much power, must take quite some time to recharge, right? Wrong again. The ZAP–X recharges fully in as little as ten minutes, and best of all, it does so from any standard outlet. As if that weren’t enough to put your name on the preorder list, perhaps some of the extra features will, including touch screen controls on a windows XP platform, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and an IPOD ready sound system. Still not impressed? Maybe the keyless biometric entry and ignition and the photovoltaic glass is more your style. Photovoltaic glass? Yes, this time, they thought of everything. Who would have thought that your windows would be powering your car while you drive?

Park & PowerWith such advancements in the field, the only question left to ask is why it’s not catching on quicker. The answer is simple – the infrastructure. To charge electric cars, you need a charging station. An interesting solution we have seen popping up in England called “Park and Power” seems very promising. These small charging stations are about the size of a parking meter. Customers can purchase a 6 or twelve-month license, which gives them access to a magnetic fob. This is used to activate the park and power machines when they connect to their electric vehicles. As these become more and more popular and are installed at more locations, electric vehicles will become easier to own. Can this truly be the next step in the automotive industry? We think so.

Co- Authors: Josef Newman + Aaron Newman, Urban Core International, S.A.