The University of Michigan (U-M) will lead a four-university team in a large-scale project to develop software to help analysts craft greenhouse gas reduction policies in the transportation industry.
The study will focus on the transportation industry, where emissions reduction policies have significant consequences on the economy and materials use, and can fail due to unintended results that can offset environmental gains, said Steven Skerlos, associate professor of mechanical engineering at U-M.
Skerlos and James Winebrake, chair of the public policy department at Rochester Institute of Technology, are co-directors of the $1.9 million, five-year project funded by the National Science Foundation. Other universities include the University of California at Berkeley and Northeastern University.
The premise for the research is the fact that significant greenhouse gas emissions in the United States will not decrease unless environmental costs are captured in the marketplace and new government policies are implemented. The US transportation industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country’s entire economy, so any serious reduction in emissions must include the transportation sector.
Specifically, we want to know if proposed policies would have unintended and undesirable consequences on the function of the automotive market, on the industry’s life cycle environmental impact, or on the industry’s demand for materials—Steven Skerlos
The researchers will look at how the effectiveness of government policies is constrained by producer incentives, consumer preferences and technological constraints. For instance, if the best economic choice for producers to respond to greenhouse gas policies is to increase their use of lighter-weight aluminum rather than steel, that could offset emissions reductions because aluminum production requires more electricity. This electricity can come from either highly intensive CO2 sources such as coal generation or less intensive sources such as hydroelectric generation.
To predict these unintended consequences, researchers must integrate models of market decisions and technological performance with life cycle assessment and materials flow analysis, a process that marries public policy, engineering, natural resources and behavioral research. The project will culminate with the development of an analytical tool called CAPA (the computational automotive policy analysis software program).
The project is funded though the NSF MUSES program (Materials Use: Science, Engineering and Society), which supports programs that study the sustainable use of materials and the mitigation of adverse human impact on the environment.