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Coffee Cup Efficiency

50% by 2050

At COP26, World Nations agreed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which means we need to cut down carbon emissions in half from current levels. Not a small feat considering the ever-growing population and number of vehicles across the world.

Transportation alone generates approximately a quarter of all carbon emissions. Replacing Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars with Electric Vehicles (EVs) is a good place to start, but it is not the solution because- the environmental impact of rare earth elements needed for such a shift is massive. Plus, the EVs are only as green as the energy that powers them, and currently 60% of the energy comes from fossil fuel.

Electrification efforts have to be paired with improved energy efficiency that is doing the same transportation jobs with less total energy consumed. 

What’s efficiency anyway?

The average vehicle uses around 90% of its energy to push the weight of the vehicle around. Metrics widely used today (liters/100 km, kWh/km) mask this fact even further, by measuring vehicles' fuel efficiency in relation to their weight. There is no common metric that takes into account the most important factor - how much energy is used (wasted) to move the actual payload, be it goods or passengers.

Deadhead weight

This is a problem because a vehicle can be rendered efficient according to customary metrics, but may still be extremely inefficient in relation to the payload and respective CO2 emissions (think delivering a banana with a Tesla). Yes, your kWh/km would be decent, but in relation to the actual payload (or transportation job), it’s a total efficiency disaster. A more granular and payload-oriented metric would be a good step towards COP26 goals.

Modicum of Transport 

Luckily, to help put energy efficiency in perspective, tailor-made metrics are starting to emerge. Meet the Modicum of Transport (MOT), a concept proposed by Horace Dediu of Micromobility:

"MOT stands for "Modicum Of Transport." It is defined as 1MOT = 0.1kWh/kg*km (or 10kWh/100kg*km). It’s the nominal energy cost of transporting one person one kilometer."

The purpose of the new metric is to serve as a unit of utility for emerging modes of mobility. In other words, how efficient is a given mode of transport in transporting its payload rather than its own weight?

Below is an example of how MOT compares across various modes of transport:


Smaller vehicles tend to have a lower MOT rating. The lower the MOT, the less energy is wasted transporting its own weight, and the more efficient the vehicle is for its transportation job. 

Making It Stick

MOT is a brilliant step in the right direction, but there is a long way for it to become a household metric for the consumers– it’s just hard to relate to. 

How do we make emerging metrics like MOT stick? Let’s see how this has been done before. Humanity has come full circle in measuring unit of power, from Watts to horsepower and back to Watts again with the emergence of EVs. The unit “horsepower” was first employed by James Watt, who needed a proxy to communicate the power range of his steam engine. He referred to something his customers would understand and relate to in their day-to-day life– back then, it was good old horses.

Today, what can everyone relate to across the globe? Coffee. Let’s use coffee as our proxy. 

What if we calculate the aggregate total of all energy used to make a 100 mL cup of coffee and compare it with the power needed for our daily transportation jobs? (It sounds a bit ridiculous at first, but using horses as a point of reference in the “olden days” must have sounded just as ridiculous.)

It takes about 0.5 kWh to make a cup of coffee = or 1 CUP.

Now, let's say you are making a round trip to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee 5 km away from your house. That’s how much energy you need to get there:

CUP Efficiency

So, every time you take a Tesla to drive 10 KM to Starbucks, you waste 3.2 CUPs in order to get just ONE. Meanwhile, light-weight vehicles like Arcimoto will set you back 2.1 CUPs, and an e-scooter, being the most weight-efficient, just a 1/10 of a CUP.

CUPs are great, but now what? 

Reaching net-zero isn’t possible by any one single initiative, like electrification. It will be a set of innovations and breakthroughs across the board that gets us there. And historically, a meaningful impact can arise if we reconsider the legacy thinking frameworks.

Emerging metrics, like MOT or household-friendly CUPs, help highlight the need to right-size the vehicles for our transportation jobs. These mind shifts, coupled with electrification and clean energy generation, sets us up for success in reaching COP26 goals.

About Faction

Founded in 2020, Faction develops driverless electric vehicles that have the speed and performance of cars, but at a fraction of the cost. Faction uses three-wheel vehicles that are regulated as motorcycles making them faster to develop and “right sized” for most urban deliveries and trips. We combine autonomy with remote human supervision, so we’re not constrained by waiting for 100% autonomous technology. To us, autonomy is an optimization, driverless is a product.