IndiRail
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A transport system for individual transportation based on renewable energy sources.


Ideas & Author: John Val
Address: Frans van Mierisstraat 17, 2316AK Leiden, Netherlands
E-mail: j.val@hccnet.nl
Date: 10 February 1999

Document history

This document is the result of efforts made by me, John Val. In this paper I tried to present an objective analysis of my ideas towards transportation with the use of renewable energy sources. The efforts are made voluntarily in my limited spare time, without any financial support. So this it can not be expected that the analysis in this paper is complete. Due to the problems arising from the use of fossil energy sources throughout our modern society and the attention paid to these problems recently, I decided that, although far from complete, I had to put out my ideas as soon as possible. My biggest wish is that my efforts will not stop here. I hope my ideas will settle in a fruitful place, thereby hoping that the reward for me will be employment in this field. So this paper is also an open job application. Hire me.

License Agreement

You have gotten this document (indirectly) from John Val with the purpose of  together making this world a better place. The emphasis on togetheris for wanting that, in case these ideas will be used effectively, I will as well benefit from your results. Therefor I would like you to help me keep track of this document by sending notifications to j.val@hccnet.nl about your spread of this document (addresses of recipients: either mail or e-mail)

Correspondence

Any remarks or suggestions about the content of this paper are welcome, and your ideas are subject to the license agreement above.

Contents

Summary

  1. Introduction
  2. IndiRail a clean solution for transportation in the next millennium.
  3. IndiRail a solution for transportation in the next millennium with high impact.
  4. IndiRail an economical solution for transportation in the next millennium with high impact.
  5. A proposal for research towards IndiRail.


Summary

IndiRail is a proposal for a transportation  system in which the use of renewable energy sources and individual transportation are the key requirements. The need for the first requirement is due to the problems arising from the vast use of fossil energy sources in transportation. The need for the second requirement is that public transportation is not an option for the majority.

The fundamental idea for IndiRail is the use of solar energy (where necessary supplied with additional energy from other sources, e.g. wind energy, thermal energy) for the powering of the vehicles. This fundamental idea leads to my idea about a road infrastructure consisting of photovoltaic cells. Next to this solution being a clean solution, there is another big advantage. Any new piece added infrastructure does not only cost money (current situation), but can also make money as an energy source, even for other locations or other use than in transportation. In this proposal a vehicle, which to my opinion does fit very well to the infrastructure, is also presented. However the form of this vehicle is not part of the fundamental idea.


  1. Introduction

    The current means of transportation (train, bus, car, truck, boat, airplane) all have substantial problems. Their common environmental problem is that the energy source used for powering the vehicles is not a renewable energy source. In March 1997 the Dutch government (Economical Affairs) put out an action program "Duurzame energie in opmars (ed. A rise in renewable energy)". The main goal in this program is to increase the contribution of energy supply by renewable energy sources up to 10% by the year 2020. Also many companies are heading more and more towards the use of renewable energy sources. In this document I would like to draw your attention to my proposal called "IndiRail". The main goal in IndiRail is to reduce the carbondioxide exhaustion in "road" transportation by making  renewable energy the main source of energy for the powering of the vehicles in the transportation system. Introduction of IndiRail in the Netherlands could, highly probable, fulfill the goal set in the action program mentioned above.

    Besides reducing carbondioxide exhaustion, IndiRail has many additional benefits.  I will name some here. At first, along with the enormous consumption of fossil fuels by the combustion engines,  dominantly used in current transportation systems, one gets the smell and loudness. In IndiRail the vehicle will have an engine running on electricity, since almost all renewable energy sources produce electricity immediately. These engines will be far more silent and will have no smell. The Dutch research center NOVEM performed a study ("Het elektrische voertuig op proef, Ervaringen uit de praktijk") showing these properties. So by using IndiRail we will decrease a big part of the burden which traffic puts on our sensory system.

    The second advantage needs some introduction. For the majority, the car made long and short distance travel a pleasure. Despite daily traffic jams and high costs for parking (at least in the Netherlands) people prefer individual transportation by car to public transportation. The most important reasons are speed, independence and individuality. Public transportation is easy for persons who have close access to direct lines to their destination. Persons who have to switch a lot loose a lot of time relatively. Public transportation is a restrictive service too. Besides rush hour the frequency is low, and sometimes completely absent at night, making the car even more favorable. The willingness to switch to a new form of transportation will therefore only be achieved if this new form of transportation exhibits the luxury of transportation by car. IndiRail is a proposal, which has this feature. Like in the current road transportation system the infrastructure available to the individual traveler will be the bottleneck in IndiRail, and not like in the current public transportation system the availability of the public service. This feature of individuality is what makes up the first part of IndiRail; i.e. IndiRail is a catenation of "indi(vidual)" and "rail".

    The "rail" part of IndiRail originates from the picture I have in mind for the infrastructure, and the vehicle using it. The current infrastructure for road transportation is a web of roads. In IndiRail a web of photovoltaic solar cells will replace this infrastructure. In my view transport is supplied in the following manner. Underneath the photovoltaic solar cells a carrier for the energy will be mounted. The vehicles consume energy directly from this carrier. Obviously a vehicle is favored which has the least of friction with both the air and the transportation surface. Something like a gondola in a ski lift supplied with an electrical engine riding on a rail which caries the energy. The vehicle in itself is not very important at this stage. A trolley car could also be a starting possibility. For sure more research is required to find a suitable vehicle. What holds for sure: the lower the energy consumption by the vehicle, the higher the capacity of the infrastructure, and the higher the velocity of transportation.

    Besides the already mentioned enormous reduction of environmental pollution the infrastructure in IndiRail offers more advantages, which cannot easily be achieved in the current transportation system (see e.g. the Dutch TRAIL site). At first I would like to mention the potential safety aspects. Let me guide you through the following lines of slightly technical reasoning. An individual vehicle consumes energy from the system locally. This will influence the energy supply of nearby vehicles. Vehicles equipped with an energy censoring system will therefore be able to analyze its local environment. The signal it gets can be used by the vehicle to adjust its speed or course in order to provide maximum safety, e.g.: distance can be kept automatically, automatic speed reduction at busy crossings, and forced speed limitation. Also macho behavior and drinking and driving will cause less accidents if the vehicle is automatically guided. IndiRail thus supports the Dutch saying "Drunk! Be driven".

    The word "automatic", mentioned in discussion about the potential actions taken by the vehicle in the previous paragraph, also bears a great potency in cargo transportation. The majority of transportable products has just a small volume, e.g. Food products, consumer electronics, minerals. The quantity of products to be delivered might be large, but the packages in which it is send can remain small. Using an automated form of IndiRail these packages could be sent without an accompanying person. For safety reasons an accompanying person can keep an eye, but that person can be released from his task as a driver. A major part of transportation can thus take place at slower traffic time. While many accidents happen in current cargo transport, IndiRail offers the opportunity to raise the safety of cargo transportation.

    Current road transportation has become a major part of world's economical activity. Introduction of IndiRail should not disturb the size of this economical activity, as measured in employment and profitability in all dependent parties. Before steps are taken in introducing IndiRail the economical effects of IndiRail should be carefully studied. For sure there will be a shift in economical affairs. Gas stations will disappear, road construction will stop, truck drivers will loose their jobs and current car manufacturers will disappear. Instead their will be employment in the following fields manufacturing solar panels, maintenance and construction of the new infrastructure, production of IndiRail's vehicles (there still should be room for individuality in the appearance of the vehicle), registration and payment of usage aspects, and the automation of IndiRail.

    Are there no disadvantages to IndiRail? As a transportation system I do not think there are any. The only obstacle is the huge investment, which has to be made in the construction of a new infrastructure and the vehicle, which will come along with it. The infrastructure can also not stop at the border of your country and thus should be introduced at least continent wide. However, the investment is one, which should be made in one way or the other in a not so distant future, while fossil fuel reserves will not last forever. Another problem could of cosmetic nature. The infrastructure will take up quite some space. Replacement of current highways with the proposed infrastructure will not influence the landscape much. But in the cities the infrastructure must be introduced as well. To me it is not clear yet how the infrastructure will be realized there? Maybe the roofs of the houses might be candidates for the placement of IndiRail's solar panels. Another minor point could be the loss of individuality. Now there are porches and trabants. Can IndiRail guarantee such diversity?

    In the following chapters I will explain in more detail the aspects of IndiRail mentioned above. However, the document is far from complete. The main reason is that I as a single person cannot oversee all consequences of IndiRail in every detail. What I hope is that the proposal in whatever form will find its way in to our society. The next citation touches me very much "We staan aan de vooravond van een grote markt. In 2000 start de eeuw van de zon (ed. We are at the doorstep of a great market. In 2000 the century of the sun will start)" (Gosse Boxhoorn, head Shell Solar Energy, Shell Venster November/December 1997). Let us hope that our society will make this statement come true.


  2. IndiRail a clean solution for transportation in the forthcoming millennium.

    Currently transportation in general is still increasing. Road transport has numerous disadvantages especially the negative influence it has on the environment. IndiRail, my proposal for an alternative for transportation, takes away many of the environmental problems. In this chapter I will focus on the environmental issues in transportation and how IndiRail addresses these.

    1. CO2 production.
      At first I would like to address the problem of global warming due to carbondioxide (CO2) exhaustion. Every use of fossil fuels contributes to an increase of CO2 level in the atmosphere. Fossil fuel consumption can be either direct by combustion engines or indirect by electrical engines using energy from power plants. The brochure "electricity from solar energy" (NOVEM, 9996) mentions that in 1993 the total energy consumption in the Netherlands was 2286 PJ (pico Joule 1PJ = 1015 J). Transportation contributed 396 PJ (= 0.11 P(ico)Wh), i.e. 17%, to this total consumption. Eliminating the fossil energy consumption in transportation would therefore take away at least 17% of CO2 exhaustion. Could this total reduction be achieved using renewable energy resources?
      The main idea in IndiRail is the replacement of the current road infrastructure by solar panels. In the brochure mentioned above it is stated that the energy yield of a 0.01 m2 photovoltaic solar cell placed in the Netherlands is 1.5 kWh. The surface equivalents required for 1993's energy consumption due to transport amounts to 750 106 m2 photovoltaic solar cells. Let us assume that the surface of a generic car to be 6 m2, and that the amount of cars in the Netherlands in 1993 did equal 5 million. Then we can compute that the energy requirement of transport equals that of 25 car equivalents. When we only take into account the energy consumption due to the transportation of passengers by car (45900 MJ = 12750 kWh in 1993), we need 14.5 car surface equivalents of photovoltaic solar cells.

    2. Estimations for the energy requirements of IndiRail in the Netherlands and the corresponding surface area of photovoltaic solar cells.
      The amount of car equivalents mentioned above is quite big. Questions raised immediately are: is the surface area required for IndiRail too big with regard to the current infrastructure, and is the energy consumption of vehicles in IndiRail comparable to that of the current vehicles? We will first address the second question. The brochure "Het elektrische voortuig op proef (ed. The electrical vehicle tested" (Novem DV@ S03.13) mentions that the efficiency of an electrically powered vehicle is 2.5 times higher than a vehicle powered by a combustion engine. Since IndiRail is a proposal in which the vehicles will all be electrically powered the surface area required by IndiRail will be decreased 2.5 times (leaving 10 car equivalents for all transport and 5.8 car equivalents for passenger transport). So in 1993 the total surface area of solar cells required for transportation without changing the vehicles as such but using electrical engines would be 300 106 m2. In the remainder of this document we will address this number as IndiRail Surface Area Netherlands (IRSAN=300 106 m2). However the car is a far from optimal means of transportation. There is a lot of friction with both air and road. In chapter "A proposal for research towards IndiRail" I will introduce a vehicle which, to my opinion, will reduce the area requirements of IndiRail considerably. For the moment I will stick to IRSAN while traffic in the Netherlands is still growing.

    3. A realistic surface area for IndiRail.

      In this paragraph I will show taking different viewpoints that the area required for IndiRail in the Netherlands (IRSAN) is not outrageous and could be realized.

      For a first impression about the size of IRSAN take a look outside, both at home and at work. The following observation is easily made. A car occupies about a third of the area of the road nearby, i.e. the place where it stands, and an area twice as big around it. Since most cars are used for moving form home to work, there are 2 such places for each car. This brings us to the following conclusion: all passenger transport in the Netherlands can be powered by the solar energy gained from an area a car occupies in the parking lots it visits, and the area directly around these parking lots.

      For a second impression we will take the 10000+ street guide of the Netherlands (32'th edition 1995). In this guide 120000 streets are mentioned. Per street IRSAN amounts to 2500 m2. If we assume that a street is 8m wide, then the average length of a street should be  325 meter in order to meet the solar energy need of transportation.

      At last we could look at highways only. Here we assume that the width of a highway is 20 m, i.e. 2 lanes both ways, a middle shoulder and two accident lanes. For IRSAN we need 15000 km of road of this kind, which amount to 60 tracks of 250 km (North-South and East-West connections in the Netherlands).

    4. Incorporation of other sources of renewable energy.

      Beside solar energy any renewable energy source generating electricity can be exploited for usage in IndiRail, while IndiRail itself is an electricity network. A very good candidate for the Netherlands is wind energy. The brochure "Usage of wind energy in the Netherlands" (ed. "Toepassing windenergie in Nederland 2"(1996 Novem)) mentions that a common windmill generates 0.5 -1 MW of power (about 1 - 2 GWh a year). Thus 22000 - 44000 windmills could substitute IRSAN. A evenly distribution over both solar energy and wind energy would then require 30 tracks of 250 km highway, equipped with 1.5 - 3 windmills each kilometer.

      Other possible sources of renewable energy are power plants using alcohol, biogasses or seed oil, connected to IndiRail.

    5. Other environmental issues

      As mentioned above, there are prominent environmental advantages by using IndiRail: A vast reduction of CO2  production, and, highly likely, a reduction of noisiness. IndiRail will have negative effects on the environment as well. I think the most important negative effect will be a cosmetic effect. The infrastructure of IndiRail will occupy a substantial part of ones view. However since the current road infrastructure is not an overwhelming beauty, a replacement of this infrastructure by IndiRail will not damage too much.

      Another environmental issue is the production of photovoltaic solar cells. The question is then: is this production of solar cells and usage of these cells by IndiRail really cleaner than the current transportation system as a whole?

      A part that to my opinion can benefit a lot from IndiRail is wildlife. In the introduction I did put forward IndiRail as a network of solar cells covering a rail with ski-lift fashion. In case this network is placed sufficiently high, there will be a substantial reduction in the amount of road kill. Habitat fragmentation due to roads is generally seen as disastrous for species abundance.


  3. IndiRail a solution for transportation in the next millennium with high impact.

    The Introduction and the previous chapter we address a  lot of advantages of IndiRail. Advantages, which definitely would have lead to the introduction of IndiRail instead of the current transportation system in case we could start with an empty world. However the Netherlands are far from empty. There is an existing infrastructure for transport, tightly woven to a huge economy. In this chapter I will deal with the changes in the infrastructure. The  following chapter will deal with the economical aspects of IndiRail.

    The current infrastructure for transportation is not suitable for a direct migration to IndiRail. The surface as such is not capable to produce electricity directly. Within the department "rijkswaterstaat" of the Dutch government  there is a project running, which shows that the current road system is capable in producing usable solar energy. In this project the heating of the road by solar radiation is used for cooling the surface in summer and heating it in winter via a water system. In this setting there is even some extra energy produced, which could be used for other purposes. However the amount of energy gained is far less than with photovoltaic solar cells. The project was initiated to decrease the maintenance of the road. Energy production was just a nice coincidence. Since IRSAN is quite big the project mentioned here is not able to cover the energy requirements of IndiRail.

    What is my idea about IndiRail's infrastructure? The current transportation infrastructure is a network of roads. In IndiRail this infrastructure will be replaced by a network of photovoltaic solar panels, possibly supported by windmills or other sources of electrical energy. In order to increase the capacity and decrease maintenance the solar panels should be mounted above the "road". The solar panels, and other energy sources, supply their energy to a carrier.

    My view a bout a possible transport mechanism is as follows. Underneath the solar panels a rail will be mounted, which directly serve as an  energy carrier. Vehicles can consume energy directly from this rail. The most optimal vehicle would be one with the least resistance to air and surface of the transport system. Something like a ski lift provided with its own electrical engine might suffice. Current vehicles like train, tram, metro and trolley bus consume electrical energy from a carrier. In a conversion step from the current road system to an optimal functioning IndiRail the current car could be equipped with an electrical engine and a slider consuming energy from the rail. I suspect that this solution will be intermediate while the car has still too much friction to the road. Besides that this intermediate solution would introduce the need for maintenance of two infrastructures: the road network, and the network of solar panels.

    The view about the infrastructure presented in this chapter is simple. However, a full realization of IndiRail requires a complete transition from the current infrastructure. Therefore a discussion about a suitable vehicle is not issue at this stage. Acceptance of IndiRail and initiation of research to study the capabilities of IndiRail is most relevant. Research should aim at an infrastructure with the highest capacity, and a vehicle with the least resistance in order to make IndiRail as efficient as possible.


  4. IndiRail an economical solution for transportation in the next millennium with high impact.

    Transportation is tightly woven with a huge economy. Abolishing the current form of transportation can only be possible in case a new form of transportation will generate an economy at least as big. It is beyond my current knowledge to be able to make a judgement. However I can give some indications which to my opinion show that IndiRail certainly does not stand in the way of such an economy.

    1. New Technology

      In case IndiRail as idea will be embraced, it must be developed. Such an effort will generate a lot of employment in technological research (infrastructure and vehicle) and marketing (economical  feasibility and acceptation). Looking at the economical growth caused by technological research (e.g. information technology), and the size and complexity of IndiRail, IndiRail is likely to show the same kind of economical growth. Even after a first realization of IndiRail there will remain a lot to improve. Analogous to current research in transportation technology, research efforts will not be expected to decrease.

    2. The infrastructure

      After a successful developmental stage that of IndiRail must replace the current infrastructure. This infrastructure is large; therefore costs and labor will be high. IndiRail's infrastructure can pay for itself while users can be billed for their use. Superfluous energy could be used elsewhere, and expanding IndiRail's infrastructure to less populated areas is not solely a  loss of money.

      A large-scale production of photovoltaic solar cells will almost certainly lead to a reduction of their price. As a consequence, solar energy might gain in strength in its competition with non-renewable energy sources.

    3. The vehicle

      Large scale production of vehicles for IndiRail will also generate a large business activity. The market for new vehicles will probably remain comparable to the current market for cars. For this reason a change in economical affairs is not to be expected. What can be expected is a growth in information technology raised by a possible need for communication between vehicles and the infrastructure in case of a "smart" transport system. This "smart" transport system could increase the safety of transportation considerably (see  introduction).

    4. Maintenance 

      IndiRail's infrastructure and its vehicle will be subject to wear. So maintenance will be an issue like in the current transport system. For this reason a change in economical affairs due to maintenance is not to be expected.

    5. Environmental damage

      Most likely environmental damage will be far less with IndiRail being the transport system than in the current transport system. Meteorologist predict a more turbulent atmospheric dynamics, with all its consequences (larger hurricanes, tornado's, storms, and more rain). In case these predictions hold, a lot of damage to the economy is to be expected. The time is there to introduce renewable energy sources on a larger scale to decrease carbondioxide production.

      A safer means of transportation will cause less (deadly) accidents in all species. Therefore, costs for healthcare and nature care will be less.


  5. A proposal for research and development of IndiRail.

    A proposal of the size of IndiRail will never become vital, unless this proposal has been studied very well. In this chapter I will propose a line of research, possibly leading towards an introduction of IndiRail.

    1. As a first step the advantages, disadvantages, and costs of IndiRail mentioned in this document should be studied in more detail.  Information should be gathered from literature, and this information should lead to some quantitative economical and technical models. In this phase a start could be given to building a network for practical research and its funding. To my opinion 3 months of full time research should be enough to indicate whether or not IndiRail could be feasible. Building a network and raising funds might take more time.
    2. In case step 1 ends successfully for IndiRail, IndiRail should be realized in a physical form. Technical designs for infrastructure and vehicle should be generated and compared in their feasibility. These designs should lead to small-scale models for IndiRail. A time frame is not easily set for bright ideas. A time limit of say half a year to a year could be set for the delivery of ideas, and another half a year for an objective judgement of the ideas sent.
    3. In a third step small scale models must be made for the most promising designs. The results of these models should then be compared with the theoretical predictions made generated from the designs in step two.
    4. In a forth step the best design from step 3 should be realized in a small production scale model. In this moment I can think of two places where we could introduce IndiRail in the Netherlands, without the need of generating an immense infrastructure, but where the production scale model is definitely not a waste.
      1. The "Wadden" islands are a series of small islands that are the most isolated places in the Netherlands. In winter there is not much traffic on the islands, while in summer a huge amount of tourists visit the place. For a test system one of these islands seems to be the right place. In winter there is not much energy produced, while in summer there is. The energy needs on the islands follow the same seasonal trend, which prevents an initial need for storage of large amounts of electrical energy, but allows testing peak load of the system. The infrastructure on the islands is also complete enough to test a complete traffic system.

        Since the infrastructure is relatively small, changing this infrastructure will not cost too much. On the other hand in such a tourist resort a clean and safe environment would be very attractive.

      2. Another possibility for an isolated system would be a public transport project, in a commuter region. The focus in such a system for the introduction of IndiRail would be more on efficiency. Most isolated commuter systems such as trains, and metros have a very simple infrastructure. In this setup not much attention has to be paid to a control of traffic flow while there are not many intersections. An additional advantage of this situation is that however isolated it can be easily expanded when IndiRail has proven its success.
    5. Once IndiRail is known to be feasible IndiRail should overtake the old infrastructure step by step. Which steps should be taken first should be a topic of study.

    Next to this line of research IndiRail should be introduced globally. Countries with a large amount of incoming solar radiation and a limited infrastructure could be the first candidates for a successful introduction, while these countries will benefit the most form a change in their infrastructure.