Published 7 months ago|
Much of the world’s food supply is transported via an inefficient, polluting, and dangerous system of highways and trucks. The overwhelming share of the fuel used to move food powers cumbersome vehicles, only eight percent is really needed to transport the cargoes themselves to supermarkets, according to one estimate.
So what’s the alternative? Move the whole system underground and set up a “transport industry Internet,” says the United Kingdom based Foodtubes Project, a consortium of academics, project planners, and engineers. Siphon veggies, corn flakes, and cans of baked beans about in high-speed capsules (one by two meters) traveling through dedicated pipelines lodged below our cities. And why not? That’s the way we transport water, oil, gas, and sewage, isn’t it?
“All all conditions, day or night, delivery can be guaranteed,” a Foodtubes PowerPoint presentation promises. “Whatever the weather, FOODTUBES will deliver the goods!”
No traffic jams
Imagine a 1,500 kilometer underground FoodTubes ring circling the UK. The packet-switched-style network would connect all major food producers and retailers via 3,000 kilos of smart grid controlled air pressure pipe. The Foodtubes capsules, spaced one meter apart, will race about in gangs of 300 or so at 100kph. As many as 900,000 will be in circulation at any given moment, either zipping around beneath London and Liverpool or being loaded and unloaded at freight dockets.
“Really fast food,” Foodtubes literature calls the concept, with big payoffs for the economy and environment. “Inefficient food transport costs the Earth,” another presentation insists. Huge quantities of diesel are burned to move food trucks—17 billion for each 25 million UK homes, which represents eight percent of all the carbon dioxide mixed into the atmosphere.
“In contrast, we transport 180 times more weight of water than food every day (150 litres/person) in pipelines, with little pollution and no traffic jams,” the project notes. “Multiply by 5 to get the totals for the 120 million USA households.”
Add to that the traffic relieving removal of huge trucks from UK roads. 200,000 of them could be replaced by 17,000 kilos of pipelines and capsules, the group estimates, saving the country 40 million tons of CO2 each year, and the world perhaps as much as four billion if the idea was adopted globally.Food bosses in the way
There is, however, one big impediment to this revolution—the current system, with its legacy stakeholders.
“The freight industry is deeply entrenched at every level of government and commerce,” Foodtubes warns. “They claim rights to profit from dominating our roads, shaking our buildings and polluting our air. Many traditional politicians and food bosses are oil-junkies, dedicated to keeping things as they are—whatever the social costs.”
Nonetheless, Foodtubes thinks it’s time for the UK to experiment with this idea via public/private partnerships in which the food industry own sections of the capsules, and publicly owned enterprises get the show started.
“The business operation is likely to be highly profitable and the transport savings to supermarkets and others will be immediate and significant,” project literature promises.