Rensselaer Research Review Summer 2009
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Building a Better Protein
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George Makhatadze
José Holguín-Veras, professor of civil and environmental engineering
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What’s Under the Hood of Your Car and How You Use Also Matters

Automakers around the world continue to slowly infuse their cars and trucks with greener, more efficient technology, but researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute contend that technology alone will not solve the puzzle of sustainable transportation. Through incentives for nighttime deliveries, real-time traffic reporting, and improved safety, professors William Wallace and José Holguín-Veras are seeking to address the critical human elements of where, when, and how we drive.

“Sustainability is a multifaceted monster that we simply cannot tackle from any one single perspective. The problem is so vast, and so complex, that solving it is going to require a comprehensive, systematic, holistic approach. And at the end of the day, we’re going to have to do more with less,” said Holguín-Veras, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rensselaer.

Efficiency Gets Lost in the Shuffle

Statistics show transportation accounts for nearly 30 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States, and up to 54 percent of emissions of different greenhouse gasses. Pair this information with Holguín-Veras’ research findings that current freight practices are highly inefficient and, on average, delivery trucks utilize only 20 percent of their cargo space – and one-fourth of trucks you see driving around are completely empty. The need for change, and the rampant waste of fuel and energy, Holguín-Veras said, are readily apparent.

Frame these snapshots with the fact that 18 million Americans work in freight or freight-related activities, and the nation’s nine million registered midsize and large trucks deliver about $5.5 trillion worth of goods to homes and businesses every year. This complicates the equation immensely and raises the question of how to green the transportation industry and be more efficient without impacting commerce or competitiveness.

Truckers are mostly independent contractors who have virtually no say in what or where they deliver. Freight companies that hire truckers likely don’t necessarily want to send out partly filled trucks, but need to fulfill the demand of their customers, who are business owners and have their own clientele — with their own set of expectations — to worry about.

Efficiency seems to get lost in the shuffle, but Holguín-Veras said this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

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“Switching Gears to Greener Transportation”
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