NPC report to Energy Secretary finds light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles could reduce per-mile GHG at least 40% by 2050; additional strategies required for further reductions
|Projected range of impact of demand, fuel efficiency improvements, and alternative fuel-vehicle systems on light-duty fleet GHG emissions. Source: NPC. Click to enlarge.|
Transportation in the United States could evolve at an accelerated rate, depending on the speed of technology advancements and the economic viability of alternative fuels and vehicles, according to a comprehensive report approved and presented to the Secretary of Energy by the National Petroleum Council (NPC). However, sustained and focused efforts by industry and government are essential for progress to continue and accelerate.
Among the findings of the two-year study are that—if technology hurdles and infrastructure challenges can be overcome—economically competitive low-carbon fuels and improvements in fuel economy will result in substantial reductions in GHG emissions. On a stand-alone basis, all light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles have the potential to reduce per-mile GHG emissions by at least 40% in 2050, relative to 2005 average fleet levels. However, projected 2050 transportation demand, relative to 2005, counteracts per-mile GHG reductions.
|The National Petroleum Council (NPC), a federally chartered and privately funded advisory committee, was established by the Secretary of the Interior in 1946 at the request of President Truman.|
|In 1977, the NPC’s functions were transferred to the newly established Department of Energy. The purpose of the NPC is solely to advise, to inform and to make recommendations to the Secretary of Energy with respect to any matter relating to oil and natural gas, or to the oil and gas industries submitted to it or approved by the Secretary. The NPC does not concern itself with trade practices, nor does it engage in any of the usual trade association activities.|
|The Council membership of approximately 200 persons is selected and appointed by the Secretary of Energy. Individual members serve without compensation as representatives of their industry or associated interests as a whole, not as representatives of their particular companies or affiliations.|
Additional strategies will be required to achieve a 50% reduction in GHG emissions relative to 2005 in the transportation sector by 2050.
The study did not identify any portfolio of fuel-vehicle systems that provides a clear and cost-effective path to lowering transportation sector GHG emissions in 2050 by 50% relative to 2005. If disruptive innovations do not occur, then achieving a 50% GHG reduction will require additional strategies such as reducing electricity generation GHG emissions, reducing transportation demand, improving transportation system operating efficiency, and/or other actions.
In September 2009, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu requested that the National Petroleum Council (NPC) conduct studies on two topics: a study on future transportation fuels analyzing US fuel prospects through 2030 for auto, truck, air, rail and waterborne transport; and an assessment of “prudent” development of US natural gas and oil resources. (Earlier post.)
The study resulting in the report Advancing Technology for America’s Transportation Future involved more than 300 participants from diverse backgrounds and organizations, and made six overarching findings. In addition to the finding about greenhouse gas reductions above, these include:
Fuel economy can be significantly improved in the light- and heavy-duty sectors through the advancement and application of existing and new technology. Internal combustion engine technologies are likely to be the dominant propulsion systems for decades to come, with liquid fuel blends continuing to play a significant, but reduced role.
Lightweighting, improved aerodynamics, reduced rolling resistance, and hybridization and electrification can improve all vehicle types. Each fuel-vehicle system considered could become economically competitive by 2050.
The technology advances come at a cost, which impacts adoption in the market and therefore overall fleet fuel economy.
Priority Technology hurdles were identified that must be overcome for wide-scale commercialization of advanced fuel-vehicle systems by 2050. The report authors assessed more than 250 technology hurdles, identifying 12 Priority Technologies.
- For light-duty engines & vehicles, low-cost lightweighting (up to 30% mass replacement).
- For biofuels, hydrolysis; fermentation of C5 and C6 sugars; lignocellulose logistics/densification; production of higher quality pyrolysis oil; and biotechnology to increase food and biomass.
- For light-duty EVs, lithium-ion battery energy density; and lithium-ion battery degradation and longevity.
- For light-duty CNG, leveraging liquid ICE fuel economy technology.
- For light-duty hydrogen vehicles, compression and storage for dispensing; and fuel cell degradation and durability.
- For medium- and heavy-duty engines and vehicles, combustion optimization.
Disruptive Innovations can shift learning curves and improve economics, efficiency, GHG emission characteristics. Examples include low-cost ultra-lightweighting; advancement in lithium-ion battery technology or new battery chemistries; advanced storage technologies for natural gas and hydrogen; genetic engineering to increase feedstock yields and reduce costs for biofuels; non-precious-metal catalysts to reduce hydrogen fuel cell cost; and system level integration (SmartIT). However, for wide-scale commercializations, disruptive innovations are note required—priority technologies are.
Infrastructure challenges must be overcome for wide-scale commercialization of advanced fuel-vehicle systems. Options exist to facilitate concurrent development of alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure, such as building on existing infrastructure, corridor-deployment, and multi-fuel vehicles.
Energy Security. In the years ahead, the U.S. transportation sector could have access to a broad array of economically competitive fuel-vehicle system options, the diversity of which can contribute to US energy security.
Despite sustained investment in technology and infrastructure, fuel and vehicle advances are not assured, the report cautioned. There are competing priorities in the pursuit of new fuel and vehicle technologies that are at once reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible. Striking a balance to meet individual and societal goals is the challenge at hand for both industry and government, the report said. The study offered the following recommendations:
Government should promote sustained funding and other resources—either by itself or in combination with industry—in pre-competitive aspects of the 12 Priority Technology areas identified, as well as in areas that could lead to Disruptive Innovations.
There is a great deal of uncertainty regarding which individual fuel-vehicle systems will overcome technology hurdles to become economically and environmentally attractive by 2050. Therefore, government policies should be technology neutral while market dynamics drive commercialization.
The federal government should take a leadership role in convening state, local, private sector, and public interest groups to design and advocate measures to streamline the permitting and regulatory process in order to accelerate deployment of infrastructure.
When evaluating GHG emission reduction options, the government should consider full life-cycle environmental impact and cost effectiveness across all sectors. It should also continue to advance the science behind the assessment methodologies and integrate life-cycle uncertainty into policy frameworks.
Fuel, vehicle, and technology providers should consider existing or new voluntary forums that include federal and state governments and other stakeholders, to address concurrent development of vehicles and infrastructure.
NPC Future Transportation Fuels Study: Advancing Technology for America’s Transportation Future