FRANKFURT – These days everything seems to be going green. The environmentally
conscious live in green homes and hold green jobs, consume green energy and eat
green food. So too in travel and transportation, as the perils of fuel
dependency and environmental degradation spur developments in sustainable (or in
other words, green) mobility.
One of today’s leading innovators of
sustainable mobility technology is Germany, where multinational companies like
Lufthansa and Mercedes-Benz are forging a 21st-century transportation model that
combines performance, convenience and environmental
Lufthansa is Germany’s national airline and the largest
in Europe (and fourth largest in the world) as measured by passenger volume. It
is also the largest-volume foreign carrier to Israel – surpassing British
Airways around a decade ago – with 14 weekly flights to its main hub of
Frankfurt and five to its secondary hub Munich.
The centerpiece of
Lufthansa’s sustainable mobility strategy is the A380 – the long-awaited Airbus
jet that is the world’s largest wide-body passenger airliner. Lufthansa is one
of only a handful of airlines to operate the A380 (the others are Air France,
Qantas, Emirates and three in Southeast Asia).
The German carrier first
flew the A380 last year and has since expanded its fleet to 17, including routes
from Frankfurt to Miami, Beijing, Tokyo and Singapore. No airlines currently fly
the A380 into Ben-Gurion Airport, but Lufthansa officials said they wouldn’t
rule out such a possibility in the future. In 2006 Israel’s national airport
completed renovations that would allow wide-body aircraft like the A380 to use
its runways in the future.
The A380 is Airbus’ pride and joy, the product
of research going back the better part of two decades. The most fuel-efficient
wide-body aircraft on the market (30 percent more efficient than its rivals),
its passenger capacity is also 40% higher than a Boeing 747. That capacity – 525
people with a standard seating layout – means fewer aircraft in the sky and less
fuel burned. The A380 also reduces noise pollution, generating half the noise of
a 747 on take-off and three to four times less on landing.
“The A380 is a
game-changing aircraft,” said Airbus director of product marketing Richard
Carcailliet, echoing the company’s motto, “It takes an A380 to compete with an
But Lufthansa’s green strategy extends beyond its choice of
jetliners. Its high-speed rail partnership with Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s
national rail company, means fewer planes in the skies and as a result, lower
fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emission.
Lufthansa no longer flies
the 150-kilometer Frankfurt-Cologne route at all. Instead, it dedicates a rail
car on 13 high-speed rail lines in each direction between the two cities. A
similar setup is available between Frankfurt and Stuttgart, though planes still
ply that route daily.
Travelers to Frankfurt Airport – Germany’s main
international hub – may make the short trip by foot to its Fernbarnhof, or
long-distance rail station. There they will be given an airline-style boarding
pass, complete with a Lufthansa flight number, and check in their bags. It’s all
designed to make passengers feel as if they were flying.
This is no jet,
however, but a 300-kilometer per hour fast rail dubbed AIRail. With a travel
time from Frankfurt Airport to downtown Cologne of under an hour, passengers
have not only done their part for the environment, but saved that most precious
commodity to any modern-day traveler – time.
Cologne is best known for
its eponymous cathedral, a UN World Heritage site believed to house the relics
of the Three Wise Men whom Christian tradition says visited the infant Jesus in
Bethlehem and proclaimed him Messiah.
Stuttgart too has its shrines for
the faithful: the headquarters of celebrated car makers Porsche and
The former has made tentative strides into hybrid and
electric vehicles, launching a Cayenne Hybrid SUV last year and announcing plans
for a hybrid version of its popular Panamera coupe. It is, however, the
Stuttgart stalwart Mercedes – credited with building the first-ever automobile
in 1886 – that has made sustainable mobility a keystone of its development
The company currently offers 128 models featuring the range of
eco-efficient technologies it collectively refers to as
One of the currently available technologies is engines
that run on fuel powered by a combination of gasoline and natural gas, thereby
producing lower and cleaner emissions at reduced cost. Another is BlueTec, a
nitrogen oxide-reducing “clean diesel” technology, and BlueDirect, a system of
lower-consumption V6 and V8 engines.
Mercedes has other projects in the
pipeline. One of the most promising is FCell, or fuel-cell, technology that
eschews fossil fuels like diesel and gasoline. Instead, hydrogen fuel – which
many experts believe offers the greatest potential for sustainable mobility –
undergoes a reaction with oxygen and is converted into electrical energy inside
a fuel container, or “cell.”
Fuel-cell technology is zero-emissions and
produces no greenhouses gases – the only engine “exhaust” is steam and
Going one step further, Mercedes is developing what it calls E-Cell
technology – an innovative fully-electric-drive system boasting a range of over
200 kilometers. ECell models remain in the planning stage, but the company’s
continued investment in the technology shows it’s confident electric cars have a
If that weren’t enough, Mercedes is introducing an
entirely new line, the F-Class, in which each model will feature hybrid
The F-800 concept car, unveiled at the 2010 Geneva Motor
Show, is an upper-range sedan powered by hybrid technology that has remarkably
low fuel consumption (2.9 l/km) and rock-bottom CO2 emissions (68 g/km). The
electric-drive variant is powered by fuel-cell technology, leaving only water
vapor in its wake.
Rail was king in the 19th century, while the 20th
belonged to the automobile and jet airliner. The 21st century could be the age
in which each of these technologies are not only improved upon but rendered
friendlier to the world we live in. Leading that effort could be Germany, the
birthplace of the automobile and, more than a century later, still a leader in
global transportation innovation.The writer was a guest of