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UMTRI survey explores receptivity of drivers to on-board carbon capture technology

Researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) recently conducted an online survey of driver option to determine how receptive drivers would be to adopting—and how much they might pay for—in-vehicle technology that reduce carbon emissions.

The driver survey is the team’s second study on this topic; the first, published in 2012, provided a general review of the area, with a primary focus on post-combustion technologies for light vehicles: absorption; membrane separation; and adsorption. The first study concluded that factors that might affect driver acceptance of in-vehicle carbon capture included the added initial cost of the technology; the probable on-board storage required; possible impact on fuel economy; and changes in the routine tasks involved in vehicle upkeep. The researchers—John M. Sullivan, Michael Sivak, and Brandon Schoettle—developed the second study, the driver survey, directly to probe drivers on these issues.

Total number of completed surveys received was 574. From this sample, the team discarded surveys in which the respondent made illogical responses, suggesting that the question was possibly misunderstood. This was primarily based on questions that asked subjects to determine the comparative value of a carbon-capture system that offered 20% carbon-dioxide capture versus 80% carbon-dioxide capture.

If respondents valued the lesser-performing capture system more highly than the better-performing capture system, the respondent’s survey was removed from the sample. Similarly, this was also done for questions about acceptable loss in fuel economy and storage space—if a greater loss in fuel economy or greater loss in storage space was associated with the 20% capture system, compared with the 80% capture system, the respondent’s survey was discarded. Thus vetted, there were 536 completed surveys remaining in the sample.

Among the respondents, 94% (505) of drivers reported driving internal-combustion-engine vehicles, while 4% (22) reported driving hybrid electric vehicles, and 1.7% (9) reported driving fully electric vehicles.

Views on transportation and carbon emissions. The team asked two basic questions about carbon emissions: the percentage contribution of transportation to CO2 emissions, and their opinion about the truthfulness of the statement that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are related to global warming.

In general, the team noted, few respondents appeared to know the approximate answer to the question (about 28%). On the second question, 67% of respondents believed the statement was either definitely true or probably true, while 18% respondents thought the statement was probably or definitely not true. Disaggregating the estimate of the contribution of transportation to overall carbon-dioxide emissions from the sample by belief, the authors showed that beliefs about global warming appear to influence estimates about transportation’s contribution.

For example, the group holding that anthropogenic emissions cause warming is “definitely true” had a mean response of 52% to the contribution question. Those in the “probably true” camp had a 49% mean; those in the “not sure” group had a 36% mean, and so on.

Driver valuation. The researchers then asked about the amount of money, and amount of loss in fuel economy and storage space that would be acceptable for vehicles equipped with two different hypothetical carbon-capture systems—one that is capable of capturing 20% of all carbon emissions, and another that is capable of capturing 80% of all carbon emissions.

(A segment of the respondents were not inclined to offer any concessions in exchange for such a system.)

Broadly:

  • Respondents were willing to pay about $100 for a system that captured 20% of carbon dioxide emissions, and $250 for one that captured 80%.

  • Respondents were willing to accept about a 5% reduction in fuel economy for a system that captured 20% of carbon dioxide emissions and 10% reduction for one that captured 80% of carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Respondents were willing to accept about a 10% reduction in trunk space for a system that captured 20% of carbon dioxide emissions and a 16% reduction for one that captured 80% of carbon-dioxide emissions.

...there is substantial variability in these figures, as evidenced by the relatively wide range encompassed by the quartiles. This is especially true for the estimated maximum amounts respondents reported they would pay for carbon capture. This suggests that respondents have limited ability to place a sensible value on this new and unfamiliar capability. The estimates for reductions in fuel economy and trunk space show a similar trend toward variability, although the ranges seem better contained because the maximum cannot exceed 100. Nevertheless, outliers clearly span the full range of judgment.

—Sullivan et al.

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