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Technology

How electric jets will reinvent regional air travel

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Electric jets are going to revolutionize regional air travel, but how?

Flying interstate can be a hassle, usually costing at least $200 and 5+ hours of traveling door to door, not to mention security and other headaches. A new start-up called Zunum Aero plans to reinvent this, having announced plans to build a fleet of hybrid electric jets to sell to major carriers for use on densely traveled regional routes. The likes of San Francisco (SFO) to Los Angeles (LAX) or Boston (BOS) to Washington DC (DCA) are mentioned in an article released by The Verge this week.

“We’re entering the golden era where we’ll have high-speed links to every community on the backs of quiet, sustainable hybrid-electric technology, and that’s going to happen really fast.” – Ashish Kumar, CEO of Zanum Aero

It’s predicted that without the need to refuel the cost of travel could be reduced from 40 to 80 percent, and with fewer passengers would be subject to less security regulation. Although don’t expect things to change overnight, the first planes will roll off the assembly line in the early 2020s and planes which can carry up to 50 passengers and travel up to 1000 miles on a single charge are not expected until the 2030s.

The future for electric air travel does look very promising, this year an all-electric plane in Germany broke a record, flying 211 mph over a distance of under two miles. Airbus has also been developing its own electric plane prototype called the E-Fan concept, which flew across the English Channel in 2015.

So what about autonomous planes while we’re at it? According to an article by The Atlantic “On a 2.5 hour domestic flight, autopilots and flight-management systems typically do about 95 percent of the work.” Airliners like Boeing 777s and Airbus’s A330s can now fly further than earlier four-engine 747s, even with comparable passenger loads. They consume roughly 40 percent less fuel too it’s done with only two pilots instead of the three-cockpit crew of earlier airliners. Before the 1980’s the role of the third crew member was that of Flight Engineer, this was eliminated when controls were automated and placed in the pilot’s overhead panel.

It’s certainly clear that low cost, efficient, sustainable and even autonomous regional travel would be a welcome alternative to flying tiger airways to try and save a buck, advances in this industry could make common, regional flights like Sydney to Melbourne more viable for people and businesses, in the case of autonomy even totally redesigning how we live and work. However, it doesn’t look like there will be an overnight game changer in the short term, in the meantime we can dream about upgrading to Telsa’s new model X.

Sustainable design

How growing trees can help avert climate change

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While many farmers are opting to install more equipment that use less power, not enough are growing trees as a way to create sustainability.

This may be because traditionally, broad-acre farming, and even small crop growing, requires a certain expanse of acreage without any trees. However, farming isn’t always about planting crops. Graziers who grow cattle, sheep, horses or any other animals realise the necessity of growing trees on their farms.

These benefits of trees are they:

  • Provide essential shade for animals when the temperatures soar.
  • Give birds and insects a place to rest and breed
  • Provide food for native birds, insects and animals
  • Release oxygen as a by-product of their photosynthesis
  • Absorb carbon dioxide
  • Have roots that help to hold soil in place and prevent erosion
  • Can form a windbreak to shelter farm animals from cold wind in the winter
  • Provide valuable timber for building, fuel and crafts
  • Replace nitrogen in poor soils in some countries, such as Africa

So what happened to all the trees?

When Australia was first settled and for many years afterwards, trees were plentiful. However, they were cut down in order to grow food and for space to build homes. Logging was also a major source of income for many people, as it was hard work and slow without the use of mechanical aids.

Once chainsaws and bulldozers were invented trees could be cut down much faster, so they were. In the last 60 years it’s been estimated more trees have been cut down than ever before in Australia, especially along the coastal regions. It’s not only human intervention that has decimated the tree population; trees are also lost from bushfires that are often caused by lightning. They can also be lost due to floods or disease. If a region is left almost treeless, the surviving trees are often wiped out by the many insects that feed off them.

Tree loss linked to climate change and environmental damage

According to SinksWatch – a not-for-profit organisation that tracks and scrutinises carbon sequestration projects – tree loss has led to numerous problems. SinksWatch explores how tree loss contributes to climate change, soil erosion, the depletion of the ozone layer and loss of habitat for many native species: placing them in danger of extinction. Without the mulch provided by dead leaves and twigs that fall from trees, soil quality is poor and lacking in nitrogen. Tree loss has affected just about every country in the world. With the constant need for more food, they are still being cut down at a high rate.

Cutting down deeply rooted trees is also a major factor in causing secondary salinity of the soil, making it unsuitable for agriculture and even the grazing of stock in many areas.

What is being done to alleviate the problem

Many countries are now realising and addressing the problems caused by cutting down trees. In Australia, some farmers can obtain grants to help with replanting trees lost by bushfires or other disasters.

People in some developing nations in Africa are now being taught how to grow food using Fertiliser Tree Systems (FTS). This ensures that the soil is fertilised by the trees making the crops more bountiful. It also makes up for the loss of soil used up by the trees.

Volunteers that are interested in sustainability and climate change offer their time and efforts to help plant trees, which reduces the cost of replacement even further. Volunteers also help out in tree nurseries so there are plenty of small trees ready to plant at the right time.

How long will it take to fix things?

It’s going to take a long time to undo the damage already done; how long exactly it’s hard to know. We know that trees are a necessary part of life for humans and for the environment. Years ago, this wasn’t known; which is why so many trees were cut down without question in the first place.

As scientists find out even more about our environment – and how it’s essential to create a balance for every animal and human to survive – it’s hoped even more tree-planting projects will come into fruition. Other things, including an increase in solar power, wind power and hybrid vehicles, will also help reverse or at least minimise the effects of climate change.

How farmers are helping

Meanwhile, farmers continue their efforts to make their farms sustainable so ecosystems aren’t destroyed. Doing this also helps them cut costs, sometimes unexpectedly. For instance, fitting a variable speed drive to a vacuum pump in the dairy farm reduces the amount of both power and oil needed to run it, which in this case, saved over a thousand dollars a quarter.

As more people realise the financial and health benefits of trees, perhaps one day climate change will go into the history books as a disaster that was successfully averted.