National Research Council Report on America’s Energy Future Highlights Vehicle Efficiency Technologies, Conversion of Biomass and Coal-to-Liquids Fuels, and Electrifying the Light Duty Fleet with PHEVs, BEVs and FCVs
With a sustained national commitment, the United States could obtain substantial energy-efficiency improvements, new sources of energy, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through the accelerated deployment of existing and emerging energy technologies, according to the prepublication copy of the capstone report of the America’s Energy Future project of the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering.
However, the report concludes, initiating deployment of these technologies is urgent; actions taken—or not taken—between now and 2020 to develop and demonstrate several key technologies will largely determine the nation’s energy options for many decades to come. For the transportation sector, these key technologies include a focus on improving vehicle efficiency; developing technologies for the conversion of biomass and coal-to-liquid fuels; and electrifying the light-duty vehicle fleet through expanded deployment of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), battery electric vehicles (BEVs), and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs).
The report (America’s Energy Future: Technology and Transformation) of the Committee on America’s Energy Future addresses a potential new portfolio of energy-supply and end-use technologies—their states of development, costs, implementation barriers, and impacts—both at present and projected over the next two to three decades.
The goal of the report is to inform policymakers about technology options for transforming energy production, distribution, and use to increase sustainability, support long-term economic prosperity, promote energy security, and reduce adverse environmental impacts.
Among the wide variety of technologies under development that might become available in the future, this report focuses on those with the best prospects of fully maturing during the three time periods considered: 2008–2020, 2020–2035, and 2035–2050.
The report makes eight key findings, including the top level finding regarding the sustained national commitment. For transportation, the report concludes that petroleum will continue to be an indispensable transportation fuel during the time periods considered. However, maintaining current rates of domestic petroleum production (about 5.1 million barrels per day in 2008) will be challenging. There are limited options for replacing petroleum or reducing petroleum use before 2020, the report finds, but there are more substantial longer-term options that could begin to make significant contributions in the 2030–2035 timeframe.
Three primary options for obtaining meaningful reductions in petroleum use in the transportation sector include:
Improving vehicle efficiency. The best near-term option for reducing dependence on petroleum in through greater vehicle efficiency, according to the report. Technologies to improve vehicle efficiency are available for deployment now, and new technologies continue to emerge.
Developing technologies for the conversion of biomass and coal-to-liquid fuels. By 2035, cellulosic ethanol and/or coal-and-biomass-to-liquid (CBTL) fuels with carbon capture and storage could replace about 15% of current fuel consumption in the transportation sector (1.7–2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline-equivalent) with near-zero lifecycle CO2 emissions, according to the report.
(The report projects cellulosic ethanol could deliver 1.7 million barrels gasoline equivalent per day, while CBTL could deliver 2.5 million barrels gasoline equivalent per day. The two volumes are mutually exclusive—the same supply of biomass is used in each case.)
Coal-to-liquid fuels with carbon capture and storage could replace about 15–20% of current fuel consumption in the transportation sector (2–3 million barrels per day; the lower estimate holds if coal is also used to produce coal-and-biomass-to-liquid fuels) and would have lifecycle CO2 emissions similar to petroleum-based fuels.
However, these levels of production would require the annual harvesting of 500 million dry tonnes (550 million dry tons) of biomass and an increase in coal extraction in the United States by 50% over current levels, resulting in a range of potential environmental impacts on land, water, air, and human health—including increased CO2 emissions to the atmosphere from coal-to-liquid fuels unless process CO2 from liquid-fuel production plants is captured and stored geologically.
Commercial demonstrations of the conversion technologies integrated with carbon capture and storage will have to be pursued aggressively and proven economically viable by 2015 if these technologies are to be commercially deployable before 2020. The development of advanced biomass-conversion technologies will require fundamental advances in bioengineering and biotechnology.
Electrifying the light-duty vehicle fleet through expanded deployment of plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Such a transition would require the development of advanced battery and fuel-cell technologies as well as modernization of the electrical grid to manage the increased demand for electricity.
Other findings included:
The deployment of existing energy-efficiency technologies is the nearest- term and lowest-cost option for moderating demand for energy, especially over the next decade. The potential energy savings available from the accelerated deployment of existing energy-efficiency technologies in the buildings, industry, and transportation sectors could more than offset the Energy Information Administration’s projected increases in energy consumption through 2030.
The United States has many promising options for obtaining new supplies of electricity and changing its supply mix during the next two to three decades, especially if carbon capture and storage and evolutionary nuclear technologies can be deployed at required scales. However, the deployment of these new supply technologies is very likely to result in higher consumer prices for electricity.
Expansion and modernization of the nation’s electrical transmission and distribution systems (i.e., the power grid) are urgently needed. Expansion and modernization would enhance reliability and security, accommodate changes in load growth and electricity demand, and enable the deployment of energy efficiency and supply technologies, especially intermittent wind and solar energy.
Substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector are achievable over the next two to three decades through a portfolio approach involving the widespread deployment of energy efficiency technologies; renewable energy; coal, natural gas, and biomass with carbon capture and storage; and nuclear technologies.
To enable accelerated deployments of new energy technologies starting around 2020, and to ensure that innovative ideas continue to be explored, the public and private sectors will need to perform extensive research, development and demonstration over the next decade.
A number of current barriers are likely to delay or even prevent the accelerated deployment of the energy-supply and end-use technologies described in this report. Policy and regulatory actions, as well as other incentives, will be required to overcome these barriers.
The America’s Energy Future project is sponsored by the US Department of Energy, BP America, Dow Chemical Company Foundation, Fred Kavli and the Kavli Foundation, GE Energy, General Motors Corp., Intel Corp., and the W.M. Keck Foundation.
Support was also provided by the National Academies through the following endowed funds created to perpetually support the work of the National Research Council: Thomas Lincoln Casey Fund, Arthur L. Day Fund, W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fund, George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainability Science, and Frank Press Fund for Dissemination and Outreach.
The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.