When I first read about GE’s new interactive web app showing every annual report since 1908, I thought it was an interesting CSR effort. But as I dug through the app and GE’s innovations timeline, one theme became clear: GE has been a leader in sustainable transportation innovation for nearly 120 years.
GE’s impact on transportation technology began at the turn of the 20th century with railroads. By 1895, coal-powered locomotives were ushering America into a new age of industry and cities. Unfortunately, this reliance on coal came with heavy air pollution in neighborhoods and especially underground tunnels. Baltimore contracted GE to develop a cleaner version of the locomotive, and GE introduced the electric-powered engine.
The 90-ton machine featured 800-kilowatt transformers and soon spread to other cities. In 1908, GE supplied 30 94-ton, 2,800 horsepower gearless electric locomotives to the New York Central Railroad. Two of the machines, coupled together, could haul the heaviest loads on rails, without the clouds of carbon that usually accompanied train traffic.
GE’s move toward electric power continued in 1912 with the first electrically propelled U.S. Navy vessel. The U.S.S. Jupiter, a 20,000-ton collier vessel, featured a 7,000 horsepower turbine GE generator. In 1914 the Jupiter was the first ship to transit the Panama Canal from west to east, and in 1920 was converted into the first U.S. aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Langley.
Interestingly enough, when the Jupiter traveled through the Panama Canal, it was also made possible by GE innovations. The canal opened in 1914 as the largest electrical installation in the world, with 1,000 motors installed across the canal system and locks, for a total of nearly 30,000 installed horsepower. In addition to the electrical motors, GE designed the intricate selsyn controls for each lock. The canal shaved 8,000 miles from global shipping routes, saving uncounted tons of coal and oil from being burned.
Fast-forward 90 years, and GE once again brought transportation to a new level of efficiency. In 2003, the VeriWise trucking system introduced satellite and cellular-based telematics solutions to all forms of global shipping. VeriWise helped shippers plan more direct routes, boosted fuel efficiency, and eliminate blind spots in transportation operations.
In 2003 GE also returned to its electric locomotive roots with the introduction of the Evolution series locomotives. That year the company began testing the innovative engines, which already met 2005 U.S. fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions regulations. In 2007 GE unveiled the Evolution hybrid prototype, the world’s first electric hybrid locomotive, which captures energy from braking. The energy is stored in a series of sophisticated on-board batteries to provide power, cutting fuel consumption by up to 18 percent and emissions by up to 55 percent.
Not content to rest on sustainable rail travel, GE looked to the skies with the GEnx aircraft engine. In 2004 Boeing selected GE’s GEnx engine for its 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 aircraft. Lightweight composite materials and combustion system improvements increased engine fuel efficiency 15 percent, equally lowering emissions without harming performance. Just last year a Dreamliner with two GEnx engines set records for round-the-world distance and speed records.
After greening rail and air travel, GE turned to motor vehicles. In 2008, the company applied regenerative braking technology and to large mining operations hauler vehicles. The new hybrid hauler captures energy from braking, stores it on-board, and reuses it to reduce fuel consumption.
Then, in 2010, GE debuted the WattStation fast Level 2 electric vehicle charging infrastructure device for use in homes and businesses. The modular design can incorporate communications upgrades, ensuring it can stay in service far into the future. WattStation also qualifies for LEED points from the U.S. Green Building Council for commercial property owners.
From the earliest days of transportation, GE’s impact on sustainability is significant. As the world’s travel technology has evolved, so has the company’s spirit of innovation. My only question is – what’s next?
This post was produced in collaboration with GE as part of the launch of their new DataViz App.