What: Innovations in Sustainable Transportation Conference
When: Thursday and Friday
Where: Renaissance Boulder Flatiron Hotel, 500 Flatiron Blvd, Broomfield
Info: For times, cost and more information about the conference, visit theasterfoundation.org
Tired of the 2 1/2-hour drive to Pueblo from Boulder? Skip the Interstate 25 logjam and cut your travel time significantly by slipping into an ET3 passenger capsule and riding frictionless magnetic levitation through a tube to your destination.
Want to look down on those stuck in traffic below? Instead of peering out the window of a clattering, fuel-burning helicopter, make your high and mighty perch a quiet, gliding gondola.
These are some of the cutting-edge, futuristic ideas for getting from Point A to Point B -- and everywhere in between -- that are up for discussion at the Innovations in Sustainable Transportation Conference taking place in Broomfield on Thursday and Friday. The conference is sponsored by The Aster Foundation, a Boulder-based organization focused on encouraging sustainable transit solutions.
"The transportation system we have now is barely working -- and as the fossil fuels get more expensive, they're going to work less well," said Zev Paiss, executive director of The Aster Foundation. "We're going to be asking how we provide an infrastructure to allow these technologies to be implemented?"
Aside from gondola and tube travel, the conference will touch on elevated transport systems and the e-bike revolution. A panel of speakers, including the heads of companies working on the development of these alternative transportation technologies, will be on hand to lead discussions and share the latest research in the field.
One of those speakers is Daryl Oster, the founder of Longmont-based ET3, which stands for Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies. Oster said the ideas that will be discussed this week in Broomfield aren't necessarily pie-in-the-sky concepts. The technology Oster is working on has actually been around -- albeit as separate components -- for decades. Pipelines, vacuum pumps and high-energy permanent magnets are nothing new, but they've never quite been put together the way ET3 is envisioning.
"What we are doing with ET3 is creating space travel conditions on Earth by using off-the-shelf industrial materials, intellectual property and industrial capacities," Oster said.
And the benefits, he said, are immense. With car sized passenger capsules -- each carrying six passengers -- initially powered by electricity and gliding through a vacuum via magnetic levitation at hundreds of miles per hour, ET3 will have obvious speed advantages over road travel and environmental benefits over air travel. As the technology improves, Oster said, so will the speeds.
The hope is that at 4,000 mph, with a network of tubes spanning the globe, ET3 will be able to get a passenger from New York to Beijing in two hours. The company claims that its system can provide 50 times more transportation per kilowatt hour than electric cars or trains and can be built for 1/10th the cost of high-speed rail, or one fourth the cost of a freeway.
The company initially will focus on connecting cities 200 miles to 600 miles apart with the system moving at 300 mph to 400 mph, a market Oster describes as a "sweet spot" for ET3.
"It's too far to drive but not far enough to fly," he said.
Tube travel got some attention this summer when Elon Musk, head of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, announced his intention to build the Hyperloop, which shares concepts with ET3. Musk boasted that the solar-powered, elevated transit system would be able to transport passengers and cars from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.
"This is extremely achievable," Oster said.
Former Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor, who now works as the transportation policy director for the Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, will be one of the speakers at the conference Thursday night. He said two recent studies, from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the National Academy of Sciences, conclude that people will need to pull every trick in the book in terms of energy efficiency, clean fuels and renewable electric generation to meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
"We need to have a much more entrepreneurial and innovative approach to transportation if we want to have success at making transportation sustainable on a large scale," Toor said. "It's important to be exploring a broader universe of alternatives than we have in the past."
Paiss said that although e-bikes have taken off worldwide and excellent examples of gondola travel have begun to sprout around the world, particularly in hilly, congested cities in South America and Europe, it may take some time before they gain widespread acceptance in the United States.
Steven Dale, founding president of Canada's Creative Urban Projects Inc. and a leading authority on gondola travel, is one of the featured speakers at the conference.
"This is a process that is going to take time," Paiss said.