Hello friends! Here’s my monthly take on the five most interesting developments in future fuels and vehicles trends. Items I selected for February include a cradle-to-grave (C2G) assessment of GHG emissions and costs for current (2015) and future (2025–2030) light-duty vehicles, fossil fuel subsidies and taxation, autonomous and shared mobility, fuel economy and air pollution. First, a government-industry team of researchers has found that currently, hybrids and plug-in hybrid petroleum-fueled vehicles provide the most attractive cost in terms of avoided carbon emissions although they offer lower potential GHG reductions.
A study in the journal Nature has found that removing all fossil-fuel subsidies would have a limited impact on global energy demand by 2030 (a reduction of about 1–4%). In addition, the share of energy from renewable sources would rise by less than 2%, and global CO2 emissions would fall by only 1–4% (under both low and high oil prices). I include it because many biofuels and advanced biofuels proponents have argued over the years about the need to remove subsidies to create a more level playing field for their respective products. But, maybe not?
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is charged with setting fuel economy standards for the U.S., is evaluating a variety of options, one of which would only require automakers to achieve a 35.7-mpg fleet average by 2026, about 11 mpg less than the current requirement of 46.6 mpg. The “trial balloons” in the press have begun which means we’re getting close to a decision on a path forward on fuel economy in the U.S.
Consumer products such as shampoo, cleaning products and paint now contribute as much to emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in cities as tailpipe emissions from vehicles as shown in the chart below, according to a new study led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The authors say the results suggest that the focus of efforts to mitigate ozone formation and toxic chemical burdens need to be adjusted. And finally, it seems the “emperor has no clothes” when it comes to autonomous, shared mobility and public transport. But could the same apply to transport in general?
1. Environmental Science & Technology: Current and Future United States Light-Duty Vehicle Pathways: Cradle-to-Grave Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Economic Assessment —
A cradle-to-grave (C2G) assessment of GHG emissions and costs for current (2015) and future (2025–2030) light-duty vehicles by a team from U.S. DOE, national laboratories, major automakers, EPRI and Chevron has found that currently, hybrid and plug-in hybrid petroleum-fueled vehicles provide the most attractive cost in terms of avoided carbon emissions although they offer lower potential GHG reductions. The ranges of the levelized cost of driving (LCD) and cost of avoided carbon are narrower for the future technology pathways, reflecting the expected economic competitiveness of these alternative vehicles and fuels.
The analysis addressed every aspect of the vehicle and fuel life cycles, including manufacturing, end-of-life disposal (recycling and scrappage), and vehicle operation, as well as fuel feedstock production and transportation, fuel production, and fuel distribution. The following vehicle types were included: gasoline and diesel internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs); flex fuel vehicles; compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles; hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs); hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs); battery electric vehicles (BEVs); and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Broadly, the team found that gasoline ICEVs using current technology have C2G emissions of ∼450 gCO2e/mi (grams of carbon dioxide equivalents per mile), while C2G emissions from HEVs, PHEVs, H2 FCEVs, and BEVs range from 300–350 gCO2e/mi. This is shown in the figure below.
Calculated life-cycle GHG emissions from current vehicle-fuel technology pathways and from those deemed scalable in the 2025–2030 timeframe (following an assessment of technological readiness)
The team expects future vehicle efficiency gains to reduce emissions to ∼350 gCO2e/mi for ICEVs and ∼250 gCO2e/mi for HEVs, PHEVs, FCEVs, and BEVs. Utilizing low-carbon fuel pathways yields GHG reductions more than double those achieved by vehicle efficiency gains alone.
Although the findings show that advanced vehicle and fuel technologies could lead to deep reductions in GHG emissions compared with a conventional gasoline ICEV, impacts on the upfront vehicle purchase price and the levelized cost of driving (LCD) are decisive factors in the actual adoption of these advanced vehicles by consumers.
For 2025–2030, ICEVs using conventional gasoline appear to be the least expensive vehicle-fuel systems for the end user on a per-mile basis. LCDs ranged from 26¢ per mile for conventional gasoline ICEVs to 38¢ per mile for long-range BEVs using electricity derived from solar energy. The costs of other pathways include 31¢ per mile for corn-stover ethanol ICEVs, 28¢–30¢ per mile for PHEVs and H2 FCEVs, and 34¢–38¢ per mile for BEVs. The central estimate of the future technology conventional ICEV is $2,110 more than the central estimate of the current technology version, due to advances in engine and materials technologies. This is shown in the figure below.
Levelized cost of driving for current (2015, dark bars) and future (2025–2030, light bars) technology pathways
2. Nature: Limited Emission Reductions from Fuel Subsidy Removal Except in Energy-Exporting Regions — The authors in this study found that removing all fossil-fuel subsidies would have a limited impact on global energy demand by 2030 (a reduction of about 1–4%). In addition, the share of energy from renewable sources would rise by less than 2%, and global CO2 emissions would fall by only 1–4% (under both low and high oil prices). Read more about it here.
3. MotorTrend: NHTSA May Drastically Reduce Fuel Economy Requirements — NHTSA, which is charged with setting fuel economy standards for the U.S., is evaluating a variety of options, one of which would only require automakers to achieve a 35.7-mpg fleet average by 2026, about 11 mpg less than the current requirement of 46.6 mpg set by the Obama Administration. The reasoning the agency may use is traffic safety and highway deaths, which have been increasing over the last several years.
Another proposal being considered would require a 42.1 mile-per-gallon fleet average in 2026. If NHTSA goes this route EPA could still continue to tighten the GHG standards to stay aligned with California. But that would be kind of odd for an Administration and an EPA Administrator that doesn’t believe in climate change. NHTSA and EPA will announce the path forward on fuel economy in April.
4. Science: Volatile Chemical Products Emerging as Largest Petrochemical Source of Urban Organic Emissions — Consumer products such as shampoo, cleaning products and paint now contribute as much to emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in cities as tailpipe emissions from vehicles as shown in the chart below, according to a new study led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The authors say the results suggest that the focus of efforts to mitigate ozone formation and toxic chemical burdens need to be adjusted.
Source: NOAA, et al.
Volatile organic compounds are precursors for the formation, via oxidation, of secondary organic aerosols (SOA)—a major component of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in cities around the world. Further, oxidation of VOCs in the presence of nitrogen oxides (NOx = NO + NO2) also contributes to tropospheric ozone (O3), which increases risks of mortality from respiratory diseases.
People use a lot more fuel than they do petroleum-based compounds in chemical products—about 15 times more by weight, according to the new assessment. Even so, lotions, paints and other products contribute about as much to air pollution as does the transportation sector. In the case of PM2.5, particle-forming emissions from chemical products are about twice as high as those from the transportation sector, the team found.
5. Journal of Public Transportation: Lies, Damned Lies, AVs, Shared Mobility, and Urban Transit Futures — I was lured by the title and further hooked by the first sentence in this paper: “It seems to me there is a gigantic lot of nonsense discussed about the future of transport and the future of public transport in particular.” Read more about it here.
A study that will be published in the March 2018 Energy Policy says that if the use of alternative jet fuels (AJF) “is to reduce aviation’s lifecycle GHG emissions by 50% or more by 2050, prices or policies will have to significantly incentivize the production of bioenergy and waste feedstocks, and AJF production will need to be prioritized over other potential uses of these resources. Reductions of 15% by 2050 would require construction of ~60 new bio-refineries annually (similar to growth in global biofuel production capacity in the early 2000s), and capital investment of ~12 billion USD2015 per year (~1/5 of annual capital investment in petroleum refining).”
Meantime, everyone probably knows two new Co-Optima reports have been released, but how many know about DOE’s Bioenergy Technology Office’s (BETO) efforts to “rewire the carbon economy?” Think catalytic upgrading to liquid fuels and chemicals. That means: “Forming carbon-carbon bonds from reduced CO2 to produce chemicals between C5 and C8 provides an opportunity for direct use as transportation fuels. Non-biological conversion specialists believe that a biorefinery could potentially use CO2 as a feedstock, perform biological reduction, and then convert to liquid fuels catalytically.”
New research by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Carnegie Mellon University, SRI International and the University of Colorado at Boulder and published in Nature has shown that drone-based delivery could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use in the transportation sector. Maybe an answer to what is expected to be enormous growth in the freight sector? Overall, the results are mixed, and the best choice depends on things such as the size of the drone, the weight of the package and the types of power plants on the regional electricity grid. Drones are favored in regions with relatively clean electricity, such as California.
Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.