4. THE MOBILITY REVOLUTION
“Reinvent the car.”
That’s the 21st century transportation mantra, says Jeff Allen, executive director of Drive Oregon, a public-private partnership supporting the electric vehicle industry. The idea is to move away from the form of a car — four wheels, internal combustion engine, personal ownership — and instead embrace its function of “mostly trying to get around without getting wet or sweaty or carry a bag of groceries.”
On the tech side are Oregon electric vehicle companies Arcimoto, BOXX and Green Lite Motors. These startups are building small-scale motorized scooters or three-wheel vehicles with hybrid or electric engines. The Green Lite system also includes 100 mpg capability and a hydraulic balancing system.
Meanwhile, second-generation (post-Zipcar) car-sharing companies continue to deconstruct car ownership. San Francisco-based Getaround, a peer-to-peer service, allows individual car owners to rent out their own car. Austin-based Car2Go, a smart car-based service, doesn’t require reservations or round trips. Both operate in Portland. Then there is the yet-to-be named vendor for Portland’s bike-sharing program, approved by city council this spring.
Most cars are too big, too expensive and too polluting for the average driver’s needs, car reinvention proponents say. “The transformation you’re seeing is about giving people more reasonable choices for how they travel,” says Jennifer Dill, a PSU urban studies professor and director of the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium.
Even drivers who want a regular old car, just the electrified version, are in for some changes — namely, the kind of battery that will charge that car. “There’s a perpetual race between the things we want our electronics to do and the batteries we have to power them,” says Allen. “It’s a huge driver for the electric vehicle industry.”
One runner in this race is ReVolt, a Portland company developing a zinc air battery that is reusable, recyclable — and energy dense. The goal is to develop a longer lasting more eco-friendly alternative to the commonly used lithium battery, which is susceptible to explosions, depends on toxic metals and lacks sufficient storage capacity to charge a car for long distances.
“Whether it’s a completely new kind of battery or a dramatically better lithium battery,” says Allen, “there’s going to be some kind of a radical transformation.”
5. FUELED BY WASTE
The United States is home to about 125 biogas plants that convert organic waste to fuel. The majority are in rural areas and rely on animal or plant waste as fuel. John McKinney of Columbia Biogas is developing a $55 million plant in Portland’s Cully Neighborhood, the first in the country to be sited in the center of a metro area. It is expected to be up and running by December 2013.
“This facility is specially designed to handle solid and liquid organic waste streams generated by commercial and industrial waste streams: grocery stores, restaurants, food processors, and beverage manufacturers. Historically a lot of that ended up in landfill, because of plastic or glass or metal packaging. The anaerobic process produces a fuel that will initially power 3,000 homes, and then ramp up to 5,000 homes. What’s unique is the facility also produces fertilizer on the back end. Hauling waste long distances doesn’t make sense.”
-John McKinney founder and president of Columbia Biogas
6. THE LITTLE GREEN SCHOOLHOUSE
A growing body of evidence links light-filled environmentally friendly schools to improved learning outcomes. The typical portable classroom — there are 129 in the Portland Public School District alone — doesn’t meet the grade, featuring inefficient heating and cooling systems, limited natural light and toxic building materials.
Portland State University architecture professors Margarette Leite and Sergio Palleroni, who are married and are partners in the architecture firm PLDP, aim to create “a healthier greener alternative” to the conventional portable at a cost cash-strapped school districts can afford.
There are other environmentally friendly modular classrooms on the market, says Leite. But most feature expensive technologies. By contrast, their Green Portable Classroom targets simple, cost-effective strategies such as passive ventilation, better window placement and steel frames to eliminate the need for expensive concrete foundations.
Leite says the prototype, which will debut at a Chehalis school this fall, will cost about the same as a conventional structure, about $150,000. It will also cut portable energy use by half, saving schools on electricity costs. “We want to set a basic standard for what we should be providing our kids,” Leite says.