It's straight out of 1950s science fiction: an entire country connected by food-transporting pipelines, sending baked beans and smoked kippers sailing between London and Liverpool at 60 miles per hour. And it's arguably more sensible than what we're already doing.
In the United Kingdom, 8 percent of all carbon dioxide mixed into the atmosphere comes from the diesel gas used to move around food trucks. That's a ton of unnecessary pollution, particularly when you consider one estimate suggests only a small percentage of that gas is actually needed to move the food if things were run efficiently. That's where Foodtubes enters the picture.
The brainchild of a British team of academics, engineers, and project planners, Foodtubes calls for the creation of high-speed food pipelines throughout the UK. Each major city and center food production would be linked with a pipeline, and the cities would also have their own internal pipelines to get the food to various different neighborhoods.
The food would sail along in small capsules at upwards of 60 miles per hour. As many as 900,000 capsules could be in circulation in the nearly 2,000 miles of air pressure pipe, all of which would be controlled by smart grids that would keep food from crashing into each other. To give some semblance of order, the capsules would generally be organized into little trains of about 300 linked capsules, each spaced about a meter apart.
Now, this idea might seem a little nutty - I'll admit it seems rather fanciful. But the people behind Foodtubes point out the UK transports 180 times more water than food everyday, and all of that is done using pipelines with minimal pollution and no traffic jams.
Up to 200,000 food-carrying trucks could be taken off British roads, which would save 40 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. Not bad for twenty tons worth of pipes and capsules. If the entire world adopted the Foodtubes approach, they estimate a massive four billion tons worth of yearly carbon dioxide emissions would be stopped. The world currently emits about 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, so that's a pretty significant savings.
The Foodtubes people admit their ideas will face opposition from supporters of the current system, but they're confident that the savings will be too good for people to ignore:
"The freight industry is deeply entrenched at every level of government and commerce. 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. [However] the business operation is likely to be highly profitable and the transport savings to supermarkets and others will be immediate and significant."
One thing I'm not sure they've considered is what to do with all those suddenly unemployed truck drivers - I'm guessing there aren't 200,000 available jobs for pipeline technicians - but that seems more like a detail to figure out than something that invalidates the whole idea. For more, check out their two-minute slide show:
[via Ars Technica; thanks to Randall Wald for the tip!]