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In America's efforts to go green, our Achilles' heel is transportation

Gary Dirks—a renewable energy expert—maintains that transportation is the weakness in America's efforts to go green.

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Green Cities Need Green Transportation

      Green Cities, 2011


Green Cities Need Green Transportation

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In the following viewpoint, Gary Dirks—a renewable energy expert—maintains that transportation is the weakness in America's efforts to go green. Dirks argues that wind, solar, nuclear, and hydro energy all will have roles in the future, but that there's only one way to move transportation vehicles—oil. Nascent technologies and techniques that generate a fuel for cars from renewable materials are in the works and need to be continued.

In America's efforts to go green, our Achilles' heel is transportation; cars, trucks, and buses represent 29 percent of U.S. energy use, according to Gary Dirks, director of LightWorks at Arizona State University and a renewable energy expert.

Whenever U.S. officials talk about finding ways to end our reliance on oil, like now as a reaction to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, we need to take a realistic look at how we use oil and what are our available alternatives, Dirks said.

For example, in our energy future "nuclear, solar, hydro and wind energy all will have growing roles in electricity generation, whereas the importance of coal and oil will decline," explained Dirks. "But when we want to move a car, a truck or an airplane, there's really only one way to do it—get the stuff out of the ground. Oil remains a relatively cheap source of energy that is so convenient its use overrides its considerable drawbacks in terms of air pollution, environmental concerns and national security."

So what can the U.S. do to end its messy addiction to oil but remain a mobile society?

'More research and development is needed to make these fuels a reality.'

Greening Transportation

"In addition to a long-term transportation energy plan that does not include fossil fuels, we need a nearer term solution that can take us from the traditional internal combustion vehicles to tomorrow's advanced fleet," said Dirks. "That future should include the Sun."

"There are techniques and nascent technologies in the works that will take carbon dioxide, water and sunlight and combine them in such a way to generate fuels for our cars, but today they are too expensive," Dirks said. "More research and development is needed to make these fuels a reality. That is why the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is sponsoring an energy innovation Hub to make 'drop in' fuels from sunlight."

"The beauty of these fuels is that they don't require production of any fossil fuel, which in itself requires energy and generates pollution, but are made from completely renewable, existing and abundant components—water, carbon dioxide and sunlight."

The process is similar to photosynthesis, by which concentrated solar energy is used in conjunction with carbon dioxide and water to create hydrocarbons. In addition to creating combustible fuels like methanol and ethanol, additional processing can yield more traditional fuels like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Drilling will not be needed with these fuels. Increased security, cleaner air and new jobs will result.

"The fuels that result from these processes will look, feel and perform just like what we pump into our cars today. They will use existing refineries to prepare fuel blends and existing gas stations to deliver the fuel to today's cars," he added.

But the new fuels will be carbon neutral and will not add to the build up of greenhouses gases blanketing the planet. They also will help the U.S. move from an unstable source of energy produced far off shore, to a form of energy generated on our soil. Drilling will not be needed with these fuels. Increased security, cleaner air and new jobs will result.

The DOE Hub, along with several other ambitious initiatives involving both the near-term and long-term future of fuels, specifically looks at processes for making solar liquid fuels and bringing them to market in a developmentally rapid, 15-year time span.

"We need investments in the R&D phases of this technology to come not only from the government, but from industry too," Dirks explained. "And the new fuels will cost a lot more than the old fossil fuels they replace, at least initially.

"Even with subsidies, the cost difference could be dramatic," Dirks added. "Five dollars for a gallon of solar liquid fuel is a realistic short term target, but it could be more. So, we need to ask ourselves, do we want to continue with what is convenient and economical today or do we want to focus our efforts on what is the logical next step in our long-term energy future?"

Further Readings


  • Timothy Beatley Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities. Washington, DC: Island, 2000.
  • Eugenie L. Birch and Susan M. Wachter Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 2008.
  • Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2009.
  • Douglas Farr Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2008.
  • Joan Fitzgerald Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development. New York: Oxford University, 2010.
  • David Gordon, editor Green Cities: Ecologically Sound Approaches to Urban Space. Montreal (Canada): Black Rose Books, 1996.
  • Mathew E. Kahn Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute, 2006.
  • Stephen Lehmann The Principals of Green Urbanism: Regenerating the Post-Industrial City. London: Earthscan, 2010.
  • David Owen Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are Keys to Sustainability. New York: Riverhead, 2009.
  • Douglas R. Porter Making Smart Growth Work. Washington, DC: Urban Land Institute, 2002.
  • Kent E. Portney Taking Sustainable Cities Seriously: Economic Development, the Environment, and Quality of Life in American Cities. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2003.
  • Richard Register EcoCities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature. Gabriola Island, BC (Canada): New Society, 2006.
  • Mary Sonderstorm Green City: People, Nature, & Urban Life. Montreal (Canada): Vehicule, 2006.
  • Zhenghong Tang Eco-City and Green Community: The Evolution of Planning Theory and Practice. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science, 2010.
  • Jerry Yudelson Green Building Through Integrated Design. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill, 2008.


  • Linda Baker "Green at City Scale," Governing, August 2009.
  • Tom Bradford "Cohousing & Ecovillage Development," Synthesis/Regeneration, Fall 2009.
  • Nathan Cherry and Kurt Nagle "Essential Element of Sustainable Design," Planning, March 2010.
  • Kathy Finn "It's a Better Day in the Neighborhood," New Orleans Magazine, March 2010.
  • Will Galloway "Of Suburbs and Cities," Town and Country Planning, July-August 2009.
  • Leah Harnack "Sustainable Maintenance," Mass Transit, July-August 2009.
  • Justin Harrington "Time to Change Our Habits," Mississippi Business Journal, March 30, 2009.
  • Moria Herbst "Eco-Cites: Building a Comeback?" Business Week Online, September 1, 2009.
  • Benjamin A. Herman "Embracing Sustainability in Community Plans," Planning, April 2010.
  • Karrie Jacobs "Urban Utopias," Travel & Leisure, January 2010.
  • Will La Page "Parks Are How We Write Our Poetry on the Land," Parks & Recreation, August 2009.
  • Diana Lind "Electric Cars Are Still Cars," Earth Island Journal, Summer 2010.
  • Adal Mirza "A Model of Sustainability," Middle East Economic Digest, April 3, 2009.
  • Edmund O'Sullivan "Abu Dhabi Sets the Standard," Middle East Economic Digest, October 2009.
  • Janet Oswald "Planning for Urban Agriculture," Plan Canada, Summer 2009.
  • Stephen Peck "Green Jobs and Training," Landscape & Irrigation, April 2010.
  • Suzanne Rynne "Green Community Planning in the U.S.A.," Town and County Planning, March 2009.
  • Pamela Ann Smith "Jeddah: Planning a World-Class City," Middle East, November 2009.
  • Chris Turner "The Ideal Urban Form," Plan Canada, Winter 2009.
  • John Woods "Going Green: More than Jumping on Bandwagon," Mississippi Business Journal, March 30, 2009.

Source Citation

"Green Cities Need Green Transportation." Green Cities. Ronald D. Lankford, Jr. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. At Issue. Rpt. from "Transportation Is the Achilles' Heel of Green Energy Efforts, Says ASU Expert." PR Newswire 23 June 2010. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.


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