Alternative fuels needed to meet CO2 goals — study

Source: Ariel Wittenberg, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Americans will have to drive more alternative-fuel vehicles if the country is to meet White House goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, according to a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released today.

One of the greatest sources of greenhouse gas pollution is light-duty vehicles, which account for 63 percent of petroleum use and 61 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

In order to meet the White House’s 2050 goals, light-duty vehicle emissions would need to fall from 1,514 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year to 303 million metric tons.

But use of the light-duty vehicles is projected to increase through 2050, meaning their fuel mix must change in order to reach the White House goals, according to the study, conducted by NREL Transportation and Hydrogen Systems Center Director Chris Gearhart.

“Impacting climate change will require a dramatic reduction in GHGs emitted by [light-duty vehicles],” Gearhart said in a statement. “We don’t want to argue about what LDVs’ fair share of emission reductions might be, but rather ask, what will it take to get to that 80 percent target?”

In his paper, Gearhart finds that the only way internal-combustion-engine vehicles could be used to reach the 80 percent goal is if a significant amount of the gasoline they use is replaced with biofuels.

Even using fuel-economy-increasing tricks like decreasing vehicle weight and tire resistance and increasing aerodynamics would not be enough to reach climate goals without the use of alternative fuels.

Wider adoption of electric and hydrogen fuel-cell cars could also help reach the 80 percent goal, especially if they are used more in areas of the country that generate more than 70 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar.

“Aggressive targets require aggressive innovation, which aligns well with the work we do at NREL,” Gearhart said. “A whole-system approach, including the full spectrum of [light-duty vehicle] technologies, will be crucial to meeting those 2050 goals.”

Gearhart also looked at whether connected or autonomous vehicles could help the United States achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals. He found that the technology would have to be deployed widely in the next few decades in order to achieve such a dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.