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Conference explores East Anglia’s role in future of transport

PUBLISHED: 16:03 21 March 2018 | UPDATED: 17:06 21 March 2018

Speakers and conference chairmen, Simon Coward, back centre, and Clive Dopson, back right, at the Futuristic Transport conference. From left, the speakers are, Daniel Auger, Cranfield University; Peter Frost, Suffolk County Council; Justin Ott, Spark EV Technology; John Fagan, Axon Vibe; and Geoff Foulds, Coventive Composites. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Speakers and conference chairmen, Simon Coward, back centre, and Clive Dopson, back right, at the Futuristic Transport conference. From left, the speakers are, Daniel Auger, Cranfield University; Peter Frost, Suffolk County Council; Justin Ott, Spark EV Technology; John Fagan, Axon Vibe; and Geoff Foulds, Coventive Composites. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

Embracing new forms of transport – and new ways of using them – will be crucial to ensuring a reduction in vehicle emissions in the coming years.

This was the message from developers and researchers of clean technologies which are being used to power and build the cars of the future during a regional conference.

Futuristic Transport, hosted by sector organisation Cleantech East and Hethel Innovation, brought together companies and academics working at the coal face of automotive development including battery technology, autonomous vehicles and smart public transport systems.

It was held at the UEA’s Enterprise Centre, managed by Adapt Low Carbon Group and lauded as one of Europe’s most environmentally friendly buildings.

Clive Dopson, former managing director of Lotus Cars’ sports car division and now chief executive of Cleantech East, said reducing people’s “desire” for car ownership and improving infrastructure for vehicles using alternative fuels would be key in shaping our automotive future.

“Transport is responsible for 23% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and we are getting this down, but with improvements to the internal combustion engine we are getting diminishing returns so we need to think about other solutions,” he said.

Peter Frost, environmental strategy officer at Suffolk County Council, said work was ongoing to dismantle barriers to progression in new vehicle technologies from financial constraints to “vested interests” from companies whose business models “rely” on old systems.

However, he said that people should not overlook “the inevitability of improvement”.

Hethel Engineering Centre is a regional hotbed for automotive innovation, with around 50% of people based at the centre working for companies in the industry.

Director Simon Coward said: “We want to grow an East of England with a really sustainable future, based on clean technology.”

One of the event’s speakers was Justin Ott, chief executive of Spark EV Technology in Newmarket, which analyses data on electric car journeys to improve fuel efficiency.

He said the number of electric vehicles on the roads in the East of England rose by 21% in 2017 to almost 9,000, but more incentives were needed to encourage more consumers to consider electric cars.

Did you know...?

While electric vehicle technology may seem futuristic, the concept of powering a car with electricity actually stretches back more than 180 years.

In 1832 Scottish inventor Robert Anderson developed the first crude electrically-powered carriage, featuring a non-rechargeable battery.

More practical electric vehicles were built in France and America in the following decades, with the product growing in popularity through the latter half of the 19th century. Although the horse was still the primary mode of transport in Europe and the States, the US Department for Energy says that by 1900 electric vehicles accounted for around a third of all vehicles on the road in the country.

It was Ford’s mass-produced Model-T – introduced in 1908 – which dealt the biggest blow to the electric car market, making petrol-powered vehicles more affordable and pricing electric competitors out of the market.

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