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The Week in Sustainable Mobility (9/17/06)
Mike Millikin, 17 Sep 06

sloan1.jpg Oil prices continued their downward plunge this past week, closing at $63.33 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That was down 4.5% for the week, and down 20% from its July peak. A number of analysts noted that the market psychology that had driven up the price (the “fear premium”) is now working in reverse.

Oil's rollercoaster ride indirectly highlights the role of one of the critical uncertainties in the timely development and deployment of sustainable transportation: consumer behavior.

Transportation poses a special problem. Almost solely dependent on petroleum as a fuel, it is also rapidly growing worldwide. Estimates peg the size of the global vehicle fleet at about 2 billion units by 2050; the size of the global fleet currently is about 750 million units.

The notion of tripling the size of a fleet that consumes fuel at today's rate is a non-starter from multiple perspectives: air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and petroleum supply. Accordingly, there is an urgent need to reduce light-duty vehicle fuel consumption per person mile. John Heywood and his researchers at the MIT Sloan Automotive Laboratory calculate that the reduction needs to be by a factor of 4. In other words, petroleum consumption per vehicle needs to be about 25% of what it is today.

In an approach echoing the notion of the sustainability wedges described by Princeton's Robert Socolow (WorldChanging post), Heywood suggests that it might be feasible to meet that target if 20% reductions in fuel consumption are reached in each of six different areas (0.86 = 0.26).

Those areas need to include both the existing fleet—the legacy problem—as well as the new vehicle fleet. Consumer behavior and choices cut across both of those.

The potential magnitude of consumer behavior is shown in the two charts below. On the left is a projection of US light-duty vehicle fuel consumption reflecting steady—but not exceptionally aggressive—implementation of new vehicle technologies. The savings produced by the technology bring the US down from a projected consumption of 827 billion gasoline-equivalent liters per day to 626 billion liters per day by 2035.

That's a reduction of 24% from the projected use in a business as usual scenario in 2035. However, that's also a 13% increase over where we are today.

The chart on the right, however, reflects a slowing in demand as well as the new technology mix. In that scenario, fuel consumption in 2035 drops to 499 billion liters per day—a 40% reduction from the projected business-as-usual scenario and a 10% decrease from current levels.

Projected LDV fuel consumption with and without reduction in demand. Click to enlarge. Source: “Assessment of Future Vehicle and Fuel
Technologies, and Their Potential Impact

One of the largest unknowns in the whole movement to sustainable mobility is how consumers will respond to different conditions in the market. Without appropriate changes in consumer behavior—changes that go well beyond anything we seen proposed to date—even successful, aggressive technology development programs don't get us to where we need to be soon enough.

What constitutes necessary behavioral change? Lower speed, less aggressive driving; less driving; increased vehicle occupancy; use of mass transit; increased walking and biking; buying smaller, lighter-weight vehicles; placing value on and being willing to pay a premium for more fuel-efficient technologies; demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Historically, vehicle miles travelled increases as the price of fuel drops, and it was the rock-bottom price of oil in the 1990s that enabled the rapid growth of the SUV phenomenon. Conversely, it was the surge in oil prices in the 1970s and 1980s that saw the first major consumer push for more fuel efficiency, and the imposition of one of the more effective conservation tools deployed: the 55 mph speed limit.

The current drop in oil prices can be a welcome economic respite, but if it dulls the urgency behind the technological and behavioral changes required to reduce petroleum consumption, it will ultimately impose a much higher cost.


Despite the drop in oil prices, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects the WTI (West Texas Intermediate) crude oil spot price to average around $70 per barrel for the rest of 2006 and 2007. It also expects US petroleum consumption to 2% in 2007 to 21.1 million barrels per day. (More...)

Toyota reportedly will shift its strategy for the North American market to fuel-efficient small and mid-size cars in response to high gasoline prices and a slowing US economy. (More...)

California Deputy Attorney General Mark Melnick defended California’s regulations establishing limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from new light-duty vehicles (LDV) starting in 2009 in US District Court on Friday. A coalition of automakers filed suit against the regulations, approved in 2004, that would cut CO2 emissions from new vehicles by up to 30% by 2016. Automakers are challenging the rules as a de-facto mandate on fuel-economy standards, which only the federal government can set. (More...)

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has signed an Executive Order (2006-13) that sets a goal for the state to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 2000 levels by 2020 and 50% below 2000 levels by 2040. (More...)

Leaders of 38 Asian and European countries convened for the sixth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit issued a Declaration on Climate Change that pledges to set new carbon dioxide emissions targets that go beyond those now set for 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol. (More...)

The University of Michigan (U-M) will lead a four-university team in a large-scale project to develop software to help analysts craft greenhouse gas reduction policies in the transportation industry. The study will focus on the transportation industry, where emissions reduction policies have significant consequences on the economy and materials use, and can fail due to unintended results that can offset environmental gains. (More...)

The transportation sector may find that synthetic fuels combined with next-generation advanced compression-ignition engines are more cost- and energy-efficient than using refinery-produced hydrogen to power fuel-cell vehicles in the medium term, suggested Thomas Rostrup-Nielsen of Haldor Topsoe. Topsoe is one of the world’s leading catalyst companies. He made the remarks during a plenary address to a symposium on hydrogen production at the 232nd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco. (More...)


In an opinion piece published in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Mike Jackson, the Chairman and CEO of AutoNation, makes a case for plug-in hybrids and says that he “looks forward” to selling them. AutoNation is the nation’s largest auto dealership group with 350 new vehicle dealers in more than 15 states. Its 2005 revenues were $19.2 billion. (More...)

AFS Trinity has filed a new patent application addressing the architecture, power electronics and control strategy for the Extreme Hybrid (XH) plug-in it is developing in partnership with Ricardo. The proposed XH system uses lithium-ion “energy batteries” in combination with ultracapacitors for the vehicle’s electric energy storage system. The energy batteries are lower in cost than li-ion batteries optimized for power delivery. (More...)

The Scuderi Group will unveil the design of a prototype diesel application of its air-hybrid engine at the International Automobile Association’s Commercial Vehicle Show (IAA) in Hanover, Germany, 21-28 September. The split-cycle engine divides the conventional four-stroke engine cycle across two paired cylinders—one compression cylinder and one power cylinder. Intake air is compressed in the compression cylinder and transferred via a gas passage to the power cylinder for combustion. The Scuderi air-hybrid implementation leverages the split-cycle technology by recapturing and storing energy in the form of compressed air. (More...)

Enova Systems has announced that its most recent commercial awards will be completed with the company’s Post-Transmission Parallel Hybrid Drive System, available with either charge-depleting or charge-sustaining (i.e., plug-in) battery technology. Enova expects the technologies to improve fuel economy up to 100%. (More...)


Collaborative research between the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) and Honda R&D Co., Ltd. has resulted in technology and process for the production of ethanol from cellulosic soft-biomass such as the leaves and stalks of plants. The RITE-Honda process uses a bacterial strain developed by RITE that ferments sugar into alcohol and applies Honda engineering technology to enable a “significant increase” in alcohol conversion efficiency in comparison to conventional cellulosic bio-ethanol production processes. (More...)

Honda reportedly will begin producing flex-fuel cars capable of running solely on bioethanol—E100 for Brazil this year. It would become the first Japanese manufacturer producing an E100 car. (More...)

Purdue Research Foundation issued a formal call for proposals from companies interested in licensing and commercializing recombinant yeasts capable of more effectively producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass. The first, non-exclusive license for the re-engineered Saccharomyces yeast was issued to the Canadian cellulosic ethanol company Iogen Corp. in 2004. (More...)

Researchers have published the genome of the poplar tree. The work on the Populus trichocarpa—black cottonwood—genome will support the development of trees as a ideal feedstock for a new generation of biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol. (More...)

Neste Oil has signed long-term procurement contracts with two Finnish companies—Honkajoki Oy and Findest Protein Oy—for the supply of animal fat for biofuel production at its Porvoo refinery. Production of Neste Oil’s biofuel, which will begin in summer 2007, will be based on the company’s proprietary refinery-based NExBTL technology for high-pressure hydrogenation of fatty acids. The process can use a flexible input of any vegetable oil or animal fat. The resulting product has characteristics similar to Fischer-Tropsch output. (More...)

China plans to increase its fuel ethanol output from 1 million tonnes (333 million gallons US) last year to more than 3 million tonnes (1 billion barrels US) by 2010, according to a division chief from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). (More...)


Brown University engineers Hyun-Kon Song and Tayhas Palmore have developed a prototype polymer-based battery that combines the power of a capacitor with the storage capacity of a battery. (More...)


BMW today announced the market introduction of its 7 Series dual-fuel hydrogen combustion engine luxury sedan, the BMW Hydrogen 7. BMW will build the car in a limited series and deploy it to selected users in the US and other countries in 2007. (More...)

In partnership with BMW, TOTAL has begun building the first public hydrogen filling station in the city of Munich, Germany. (Munich Airport—28 km/17 miles northeast of the city—has had a hydrogen filling station since 1999.) (More...)

Researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Rohm and HAAS have determined that ammonia borane (AB) is a promising hydrogen storage material for fuel-cell vehicle applications due to its high hydrogen density and stability under typical ambient conditions. (More...)

Researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a new proton exchange membrane (PEM) polymer material for fuel cells that retains conductivity during low humidity. (More...)

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It was really nice to get some hyper-informed comment from yourself along with the usual bulletin! I wonder, if the Scuderi engine has as many benefits as they are suggesting, I don't see how any of the major manufacteres will be able to resist it in the medium term. A whole market shift towards this more efficient technology may help to get us closer to the cuts we need, while leaving time for the electric segment to get its act together. It's an interesting transition to watch, at the very least - Let's just hope we all survive it!

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 18 Sep 06

Well, what do you think about solar energies, well they are outdated but there are some other ways to it also.

Posted by: web hosting company on 18 Sep 06



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