The Top 5 Issues in LCFVs This Week: Banning Coal & the ICE to Meet 1.5°C targets

08.12.16 | Blog | By:

Happy Friday folks! Here’s my weekly take on the five most interesting developments in low carbon fuels and vehicles trends over the last week:

  1. How to Meet 1.5°C? Get Rid of the ICE: The IPCC meets in Geneva to talk implementation of the Paris Agreement. Up for discussion: abandoning all coal plants and combustion engines within 15 years. Scientists say it’s the only way to even come close to meeting the 1.5°C targets set under the agreement. Such ideas would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that countries are already moving in this direction (albeit at different rates of speed) ― even the U.S. and Europe.
  2. Meeting those Targets in the U.S. LDV Sector: An NREL study has showed we can’t meet an 80% GHG reduction target just by lowering gasoline consumption in ICEs, even with implementing fuel-saving strategies such as lowering vehicle weight. To get there, we need low CI biofuels in ICEs, no more than 30% of coal in use to power electric vehicles and 48% of hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles from renewable sources.
  3. India Retrenching Its Efforts on Biofuels: While some countries are moving forward with electrification and other low carbon transport initiatives and moving away (or wishing to move away from first-generation biofuels), other countries are retrenching or expanding their programs. Cases in point: India and much of Latin America, which are retrenching their biofuels efforts.
  4. Stricter Ozone and PM2.5 Limits in the U.S. Can Save Lives: For ozone, that would be 0.060 ppm (the current standard is 0.070 ppm) and PM2.5 to 11 µg/m3 (the current standard is 12 µg/m3) would each year save over 9,000 lives and bring the most benefit to large metro areas struggling with these two pollutants such as Los Angeles, New York, Houston and Phoenix.
  5. Shared Mobility in Large Cities: A recent OECD/ITF study showed that shared mobility systems in urban areas would produce a number of benefits, including improve air quality and GHG mitigation, as well as better access to jobs. But the question will be how to remake our public transit systems and encourage drivers to share rides, which may not be as big an issue for younger generations.

1. The Guardian: Scientists Warn World Will Miss Key Climate Target

The Guardian reported this week that leading climate scientists have warned the Earth is “perilously close” to breaking through a 1.5°C upper limit for global warming, only eight months after the target was set in the December 2015 Paris Agreement. Complying with the upper limit is an “impossible” or at best a “very, very difficult task.” That’s probably not a surprise to you. But what caught my eye was this statement:

“These alarming figures will form the backdrop to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) talks in Geneva this month, when scientists will start to outline ways to implement the climate goals set in Paris. Dates for abandoning all coal-burning power stations and halting the use of combustion engines across the globe – possibly within 15 years – are likely to be set.” (Emphasis added.)

An expert in the article noted, “That decarbonisation will not guarantee a rise of no more than 1.5C but it will give us a chance. But even that is a tremendous task.” One thing is clear: the Paris Agreement is and will continue to be a major driver of transport policy around the world (even in the U.S.) in the coming years with profound impacts to the refining, biofuels and auto industries.

2. MRS Energy & Sustainability: Implications of Sustainability for the United States Light-Duty Transportation Sector

To meet Paris Agreement goals to which the U.S. is committed, GHG emissions will need to be reduced by 80% by 2050 ― but how to do it in light-duty vehicles (LDVs) especially since transport is now the largest source of GHGs emissions in the U.S.? And given that vehicle miles traveled are projected to increase over this same timeframe?

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory looked at the combination of measures other experts have said are needed to cut these emissions from 1,514 million metric tons (MMTs) to 303 MMTs of CO2 per year. Key findings in the paper include the following:

  • Lowering gasoline consumption in conventional vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE) will not be enough to meet the targets.
  • Even with optimization of vehicle weight, aerodynamics, tire rolling resistance, transmissions, and idling and climate control loads, ICE-based LDVs-including hybrids could only meet GHG targets by replacing a large percentage of gasoline with low-GHG biofuels. The percentage of biofuels required will depend upon their carbon intensity (CI). Based on CI estimates for cellulosic ethanol, this percentage would be about 53%. To meet the energy requirements for light-duty transportation in the United States, this will require between 33 and 78 billion gge of ethanol, depending upon the degree of hybridization in the U.S. fleet.
  • In parts of the country that already generate more than 70% of their electricity from renewable and/or nuclear energy, fully electric vehicles may already meet the 2050 GHG emissions targets. To meet the GHG requirement for light-duty transportation, the grid energy used can have no more than 30% generation from coal. Even with no coal in the generation mix, the percentage of generation from renewables or nuclear must be greater than 36%.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles using hydrogen produced with natural gas also will not be able to meet this GHG target. To meet this target, 48% of the hydrogen used for transportation fuel would have to be produced from low-carbon renewable sources such as solar or wind.

3. The Star Online: India seeks to Expand Biofuels Market to US$7.5bil by 2022

While some countries are moving forward with electrification and other low carbon transport initiatives and moving away (or wishing to move away from first-generation biofuels), other countries are retrenching or expanding their programs. Case #1 in point: India. This week the Star Online reported that India will invest US$7.5 billion to expand its biofuels blending in the country building plants and putting the necessary blending infrastructure in place.

The country aims to reduce its oil imports by blending E10 and B5. The country imports 80% of its crude oil. Case #2: Latin America. Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Cuba, the six Central American countries, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and several other Caribbean nations met to discuss biofuels issues in the region. The Inter-American Development Bank has committed $300 million to finance biofuels projects in the region.

4. GreenCar Congress: Study: More Stringent O3 and PM2.5 Air Pollution Standards Could Save Thousands of Lives, Greatly Improve Public Health

According to a study conducted by the American Thoracic Society (ATS) and the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University, reducing ozone to 0.060 ppm (the current standard is 0.070 ppm) and PM2.5 to 11 µg/m3 (the current standard is 12 µg/m3) would each year:

  • Save 9,320 lives,
  • Reduce serious health events (morbidities), such as heart attacks, hospital admissions and emergency room visits, by 21,400, and
  • Decrease “adverse impact days,” during which people may not be able to work, go to school or otherwise be physically active because of severe breathing problems, by 19,300,000 days.

The ATS recommended standards for ozone and PM2.5 are based on scores of national and international epidemiological, animal and human exposure studies, but most have looked at only one air pollutant. By including the two most important air pollutants in the analysis, the new study “gives policy makers and local air quality managers a much better picture of what is going on.”

Overall, the study found that the more protective ozone standard accounted for about 75% of the estimated health benefits due to a greater number of metropolitan areas with ozone concentrations above the ATS recommendations. Metropolitan areas with the large populations and elevated concentrations of one or both air pollutants, they wrote, would realize the biggest improvements in public health by meeting the more protective standards; for example, Los Angeles, New York, Houston and Phoenix.

5. The Fuse: OECD’s International Transport Forum Models Ideal Yet Simple Urban Transit System

Since it’s a bit of a slow news week, I wanted to go back and highlight this interview, done in late July, on a recent study OECD and the International Transport Forum (ITF) on shared mobility. The authors took a mid-sized European city with good data on transportation patterns, and tried to imagine a system which could pick up or drop off people within a reasonable time frame, and offered service door to door. They found that, theoretically, you can could replace every car and truck with about 3% of the vehicles as you have now, and offer essentially the same system performance.

One of the study authors noted in the interview that the system combines two levels of service: instantaneous app-based booking of shared “taxis” and a “taxi-bus” service, bookable 30 minutes in advance and servicing non-transfer trips from pop-up stops. Citizens communicate with a centralized dispatch and either get picked up where they are for the shared taxis or are directed to a pop-up station no more than 300 meters away for the “taxi-bus” service. Both services pick up and drop off passengers along the ride but respect the timing of the “original” trips they are replacing.

The author notes that in the modeling, the following benefits were found in such a system:

  • It enables a huge reduction in the fleet of vehicles for the same quality of service and the potential for fleet reduction impacts are massive. “In addition to taking so many vehicles off the road, there’s a 30-40% reduction in vehicle kilometers traveled, and a 30-40% reduction in CO2—without even electrifying the fleet. All of these gains occur simply based on the optimization of the routing, and the sharing aspect.”
  • It can be put into place to optimize urban traffic without having to wait for autonomous vehicles.
  • The poor would have much greater access to jobs. Under the current system, poorer areas of the city can only access 25% of the jobs in the city within 30 minutes of travel. The system is good along the major corridors and then it drops off precipitously.
  • It would be cost effective, not requiring any kind of subsidy, and the cost to the municipality is about 3/4ths less than current transit systems. It would be about a quarter of the cost to take a taxi, and half the cost to take a bus or public transport, according to the study.

But there are some challenges and downsides, which include:

  • Redefining public transit to include this type of system.
  • How many operators would be needed for such a system to get the optimized efficiencies discussed in the study.
  • People don’t want to share rides. “…for people who currently drive their own cars this involves a huge change in behavior, and we can’t anticipate its plausibility at this time. It’s possible that younger generations are much more comfortable with shared mobility and, given amenities like free Wi-Fi, they might even prefer it.”
  • Data privacy.

Along with electrification mandates, car bans in cities and promoting public transport and cycling, look for cities (especially those with the worse air pollution and those in countries implementing transport-related measures to meet Paris Agreement commitments) to begin setting policies that promote and even mandate car sharing in the near future.


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