A new research collaboration supported by U of T Engineering’s Dean Strategic Fund aims to accelerate the decarbonization of transportation. For Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivMin), who co-leads the new initiative, this means going well beyond clean technologies.
“Decarbonization is not just about technology,” she says. “Promoting electric vehicles won’t help communities that are already mobility poor. What we need to do is design cities that will enable people to not have to generate as much greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. That includes making other modes of transportation — such as cycling, walking and public transit systems — more accessible.”
Decarbonizing transportation continues to be a major challenge for researchers as Canada’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 fast approaches.
In 2019, the transportation sector was responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Passenger cars and light trucks accounted for nearly half of these emissions.
But designing new technologies that don’t rely on fossil fuels is only part of the solution, says Hatzopoulou. A holistic approach is needed to create a sustainable and equitable climate future.
To that end, Hatzopoulou has collaborated with Professors Greg Evans (ChemE, ISTEP) and Jeff Brook (Dalla Lana School of Public Health, ChemE) to create Positive Zero Transport Futures. Seventeen other researchers from faculties across U of T, including the School of Cities and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, will also contribute multidisciplinary expertise to the initiative.
“U of T has great climate scientists, clean energy initiatives and transportation initiatives. But we saw a need to specifically address the issue of transportation and its effect on climate change,” says Hatzopoulou, who has been working on decarbonization research for more than 10 years.
Evans, Hatzopoulou and Brook were also part of the team that was awarded the 2021 Brockhouse Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering for their innovative work studying air pollution and its effects, as part of U of T Engineering’s Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research (SOCAAR).
“With Positive Zero Transport Futures, we are working toward pathways of reaching net-zero emissions that will ensure positive societal outcomes,” says Hatzopoulou. “That means designing solutions that will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also improve air quality, environmental justice, public health, and enable community engagement.”
The team is currently building partnerships with external bodies from governments, industries, and non-profit and community organizations to work on multi-scale projects and research studies.
Last August, Hatzopoulou, Evans and Brook co-led a workshop called “The Road to Net Zero,” which attracted over 150 participants from industries including freight transport, auto manufacturing, consulting and banking, along with academics, government officials, NGOs and community groups. The event highlighted the need for “learning by doing” approaches to create greener mobility solutions.
“You don’t study transportation inside a lab on campus, it is studied in the real world,” Hatzopoulou says. “We are going to take a living lab approach by studying innovations and policy interventions as they are deployed in a real-world context.”
One tool at the team’s disposal is the UrbanScanner, a mobile laboratory that Hatzopoulou helped develop through her work as the leader of the Transportation and Air Quality (TRAQ) research group. The vehicle has been collecting real-time air quality data across Toronto since September 2020 and will allow the Positive Zero Transport Futures research team to better engage with the communities they are studying.
“Our long-term vision is to foster a learning community, so that the lessons that are derived from our research can be shared, allowing many people to benefit from the sustainable outcomes.”
Learn more about Marianne Hatzopoulou’s research on the challenges of climate change on transportation:
The Paradox of Net-Zero: Cities, Transportation, & Health