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Vehicle experts in Belfer Center report reflect “large disagreement” over extent of vehicle RD&D expansion

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Minimum, mean, and maximum allocation amount per innovation stage and technology, as well as 25th and 75th percentiles. B = basic research; A = applied research, E = experiments and field pilots; D = commercial demonstration. Source: Transforming US Energy Innovation, Appendix A. Click to enlarge.

The Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School released a report earlier today recommending an almost doubling of US federal spending on energy research, development, demonstration and deployment (ERD3) from 2009 levels to $10 billion per year. (Earlier post.)

The report included a detailed analysis of seven technology areas, one of which was light-duty vehicles. The Belfer Center team obtained expert opinion about likely commercially viable technologies for its report via expert elicitation. For the vehicle segment, the report relied on the input from nine experts: Mark Alexander, Electric Power Research Institute; John German, The International Council for Clean Transportation; Deborah Gordon; John Johnson; Terry Penney, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; William Powers; Danilo Santini, Argonne National Laboratory; Luke Tonachel, National Resources Defense Council; and Ed Wall, US Department of Energy of Energy.

The 9 experts recommended an average of $2.05 billion per year in vehicle RD&D spending. However, the report authors note:

The recommended spending levels were highly skewed; the median recommended RD&D spending level was $1 billion, indicating that, while most experts recommended large increases in RD&D spending from the current level ($485 million in FY 2010), there is large disagreement over the extent to which the vehicles RD&D program should expand.

On average, the experts allocated just more than 35% of their recommended budgets to both basic research and applied research; 20% to experiments and prototypes; and the remainder to commercial demonstrations.

Technology areas with greatest RD&D emphasis were lithium-ion batteries; novel concepts for energy storage; and materials, each receiving 12-15% of recommended RD&D funds. Ultracapacitors; battery manufacturing processes; hydrogen storage; and electronic controls each received more than 7% of recommended RD&D funds.

Four experts provided cost estimates for five drivetrains. Overall, for each drive train except hydrogen fuel cell, experts did not agree whether costs would increase or decrease from 2010 to 2030 with or without their recommended RD&D budget:

  • Advanced internal combustion (ICE). One of the four experts estimated that vehicle costs would decrease through 2030 under BAU (business and usual) RD&D funding. At recommended budget levels, experts estimated modest median cost reductions between 0-5% below their predicted cost of advanced ICE vehicles under BAU RD&D.

  • Conventional hybrid. Recommended RD&D would reduce conventional hybrid vehicle costs 0-3% below predicted costs under BAU RD&D.

  • Plug-in hybrid. Experts estimated that their recommended RD&D would lower costs between 1-9% from what they would otherwise be under BAU RD&D.

  • Battery-electric. Again, the experts estimated that their recommended RD&D would lower costs between 1-9% from what they would otherwise be under BAU RD&D.

    However, because of the large disagreement over how plug-in and battery-electric costs would change under BAU RD&D, even the sign of the estimated change in costs from 2010 to 2030 under recommended RD&D levels is ambiguous: the most optimistic expert estimated that his/her recommended RD&D budget would reduce median estimated plug-in hybrid vehicle costs 14% from current costs and battery-electric vehicle costs 23% from current levels, while the most pessimistic expert estimated that median costs of plug-ins would increase 6% from current levels and battery-electric vehicle costs would increase 9% from current levels.

  • Hydrogen fuel cell. experts agreed that their recommended RD&D would reduce vehicle costs by 1-31% below what they would otherwise be in 2030 at BAU RD&D.

The experts also estimated performance characteristics for the five vehicle drive trains:

  • For advanced ICEs, under BAU RD&D the fuel economy of vehicles would increase by 4–14 mpg US from 2010 to 2030, while the recommended RD&D budget could only amplify this increase by an additional 0–2 mpg.

  • For conventional hybrid drive train vehicles, BAU RD&D fuel economy would increase 2–7 mpg from 2010 to 2030 with accelerated RD&D boosting 2030 fuel economy by an additional 0–8 mpg.

  • For plug-in hybrids, BAU RD&D gasoline fuel economy would increase between 2–5 mpg from 2010 to 2030 while electricity usage would decrease 7–10%. Additional RD&D at the experts’ recommended levels was estimated to increase fuel economy an additional 0–11 mpg while decreasing electricity consumption an additional 0–11%.

  • For battery-electric vehicles, experts estimated that from 2010 to 2030, electric efficiency would improve 0–12% while the all-electric range would improve by 0–50 miles. The additional effect of recommended RD&D budgets was estimated to improve electric efficiency by an additional 7–13% in 2030 while improving the electric range by 10–45 miles.

  • For hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, experts estimated that under BAU RD&D hydrogen efficiency would improve 8–31% and additional RD&D at the recommended levels would improve hydrogen efficiency by 6–24% in 2030.


  • Anadon, Laura Diaz, Matthew Bunn, Gabriel Chan, Melissa Chan, Charles Jones, Ruud Kempener, Audrey Lee, Nathaniel Logar, and Venkatesh Narayanamurti. Transforming US Energy Innovation. Appendices. Cambridge, Mass.: Report for Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, November 2011.


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