Transportation Energy and Climate Analysis

Transportation is one of several major sectors that contribute to climate change. Globally, the sector's roughly 25% share of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is similar to its share of energy consumption. Because liquid fuels are so well suited for powering cars, trucks, boats and aircraft, transportation is uniquely reliant on oil, which is the best natural resource for producing liquid fuels. 

The Transportation Energy and Climate Analysis project examines strategies -- both technology options and public policies -- for addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the sector. Grounded in natural sciences and engineering, the research also draws on economics, other social sciences and the history of technology and policy. The goal is to inform business communities, policymakers and the public about cost-effective ways to mitigate mobile source CO2 emissions globally, nationally and regionally. 

A distinctive feature of this project is analyzing the issue without presuming the development of petroleum alternatives. Most approaches to transportation sector mitigation build on efforts to replace petroleum that have been underway since the 1970s. The belief is that rising oil prices and risks of supply disruptions would trigger a transition to alternative fuels that emit less CO2 or are even "carbon free." However, such a transition appears farther away than many hope. The world is not close to exhausting fossil resources that can, at commercially acceptable costs, be converted into liquid hydrocarbon fuels well suited for transportation. 

By creating new ways to think about the car-climate challenge, the Transportation Energy and Climate Analysis project will chart effective routes forward from the real-world vehicle-fuel systems that exist at scale today. It will generate ideas for constructively engaging the global industries that build vehicles, supply fuels, move freight and provide other transportation services. The work entails sophisticated, technology-neutral analysis of options for making measurable progress, recognizing that the details of tomorrow's systems cannot be known today but rather will be shaped by the evolving needs of consumers who ultimately pay for vehicles, fuels and other mobility services. The results will lead society toward a clear vision for a policy-guided, market-driven transformation to transportation systems that affordably meet mobility needs in a climate-constrained world. 

Work products include: 

The liquid carbon challenge: evolving views on transportation fuels and climate

Biofuel's carbon balance: doubts, certainties and implications

Factoring the car-climate challenge: insights and implications

Biofuels and carbon management 

A fuel efficiency horizon for U.S. automobiles 

The research contributed to and draws upon the Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels study published by the National Academy of Sciences. 

The Transportation Energy and Climate Analysis project also involves collaborations with related University of Michigan research initiatives including the Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) and the Clean Energy Research Center - Clean Vehicles Consortium (CERC-CVC).