Top 5: A(nother) Zero Carbon Action Plan for the U.S.

11.24.20 | Blog | By:

Hello friends! Here’s my monthly take on five most interesting developments in fuels and vehicles trends. What I try to do each month is select stories, studies and other interesting items that you may not have seen elsewhere but that really represents an important issue or trend that I think you would want to know about. Or, I try to poke behind the hype to provide a deeper understanding of what’s happening. Items I selected this month include:

  • Zero Carbon Action Plan in the U.S.: A team lead by Dan Sperling at the University of California at Davis’ (UC Davis) Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) says zero carbon for transport will be based largely on electrification, and to a lesser extent low-carbon biofuels and synthetic liquids. Read on to see their policy proposals, which largely echo Democratic plans. You can bet the Biden Administration will be listening.
  • Hydrogen in China: The government is targeting 1 million hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs) to be in operation in the country by 2030. Read on to learn more about its updated New Energy Vehicle (NEV) plan.
  • UK Car Ban: The UK moved up its internal combustion engine vehicle ban further, from 2035 to 2030. That has gotten all the press attention, but there was more to the plan that includes expanding hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, electrification charging and supporting hard to decarbonize sectors such as aviation and shipping.
  • Policy Proposals for SAF: The sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) industry has put forward policy proposals to support industry scale up in the EU. And my bet is the European Commission will take them up on it.
  • Battery Research: Forget your conventional battery packs for vehicles. Researchers are looking at ways to make the vehicle itself the battery.

1. UC Davis ITS: A National Zero Carbon Transportation Plan for the US – A new study of deep decarbonization of the U.S. economy, entitled the Zero Carbon Action Plan, was published late last month. It was conducted by senior academics and other thought leaders, working under the auspices of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an initiative of the United Nations. The authors developed scenarios for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, analyzed different strategies, and recommended policies and investment actions. UC Davis served as lead authors of the transportation section of the Plan and recently presented a webinar on that section.

The strategy for decarbonizing transport is based on, no surprises, electrification (which would include battery, plug-in hybrid and FCEVs) of the light-duty fleet. Also included though would be urban-based trucks and buses, rail, much of long-haul trucking, and some short-haul shipping and aviation. For long-haul aviation and long-haul ocean shipping, the authors envision advanced low-carbon biofuels and synthetic liquids or gases produced with renewable energy as the leading energy contenders. But not all biofuels are going to make the grade. The second strategy builds on initiatives to reduce vehicle use and miles traveled while enhancing accessibility to health, education, jobs, and other services for the mobility disadvantaged. The figure below shows energy sources for transportation to achieve net zero.

Source: Zero Carbon Action Plan

Note: Changes in the sources of energy for transportation that would achieve a nearly 100% reduction in domestic transportation greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Note, the energy source that most increases is electricity and most decreases is gasoline blend. Blends would have increasing shares of low-carbon biofuels or electrofuels.

The authors note there is an increase in the use of biofuels to replace liquid fossil fuels with advancements in the growth of all biofuels which are to be cellulosic-based, and some algae-based, post-2030. The authors note in the study that “Feedstocks for cellulosic biofuels would come from miscanthus (180 million tons) and switchgrass (135 million tons), will make up over 80 percent of biofuel production in the U.S. by 2050. This corresponds to approximately 4 million barrels of biofuel production per day, four times the current rate of fuel ethanol; production and 10-20 percent of current U.S. petroleum refining capacity.”

Some electrofuels could also be used. They note that all fuels “would need to provide at least 80 percent well-to-wheels (life cycle) GHG reductions relative to gasoline or diesel fuel. By 2050, transportation-focused fuels such as gasoline and diesel are shown to be largely derived from biomass and (especially) hydrogen conversion in most scenarios apart from the reference. Hydrogen itself is derived from electrolysis and biomass in varying shares depending on the scenario.”

The authors recommend the following policies to support transport decarbonization:

  • Rapidly increase the sales of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) by implementing the following:
    • National ZEV sales requirements for cars
    • National ZEV sales and fleet purchase requirements for trucks
    • Incentives for ZEV vehicle purchases and ZEV infrastructure
  • Tighten fuel economy/GHG standards for all new cars and trucks
  • Adopt national low-carbon fuel standard covering all fuels for road vehicles and airplanes
  • Reduce dependence on automobile travel while increasing access for walking, bicycling, new micro mobility modes, telecommunications, transit, pooled ride-hailing services, and other low carbon choices, especially for disadvantaged travelers, by:
    • Shifting federal transportation or stimulus funding from new highway capacity and lane expansions to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and new micro mobility modes; transit in dense areas; and public-private partnerships between transit operators and ride-hailing providers.
    • Supporting local and state actions that increase low-carbon travel and investments, reduce single-occupant vehicle use, and increase transit-oriented development.
    • Reforming fuel taxes and other vehicle-related fees and adopting pricing policies to favor the use of more sustainable travel options and generate funding for low-carbon vehicle and travel choices.
  • Support low-carbon biofuels and electrofuels for aviation, ships, and long haul trucks.
  • Support local policies that increase the use of automation for electric, pooled vehicles to reduce vehicle use, provide low-cost accessibility to mobility-disadvantaged travelers, reduce the cost of travel to individuals and society, and sharply reduce the amount of land devoted to transportation.

Incentives and tightening fuel economy are a no brainer from my perspective, and I’m betting on announcements on both early next year. Federal ZEV mandates and low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) could be trickier, but let’s see.

2. Bloomberg: China Defies Elon Musk’s Warnings and Pushes Ahead with Hydrogen – In a 15-year plan for new-energy vehicles (NEVs) released on Nov. 2, China’s State Council said the country will focus on building the fuel-cell supply chain and developing hydrogen-powered trucks and buses. NEVs include battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).  President Xi Jinping in September set a 2030 deadline for China to begin reducing carbon emissions. China is targeting to have 1 million FCEVs in operation by 2030 though just 2,700 FCEVs were sold in the country last year. The plan is light on particulars.

According to China’s Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) as of 2035, NEVs will account for 50% of China’s annual new car sales, while BEVs will take over 95% share of the NEV market. And this projection from them is interesting: Sales of HEVs in China will jump to more than 75% by 2030, and to 100% by 2035. It indicates that the new vehicle sales in 2035 will be evenly occupied by NEVs and HEVs. “The balance development of diverse auto technologies and energy sources is more in tune with China’s current national conditions,” Wang Bingang, head of the National New Energy vehicle Innovation Project expert Group, said at the 2020 Global New Energy vehicle supply chain Innovation Conference in mid-September. Nowhere stated: Car bans. The EU, U.S. and states such as California might want to take a page from China’s playbook. 

3. UK Government: PM Outlines his Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution for 250,000 jobs – The piece of the plan getting the most attention is Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that the government would further accelerate its ban on the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles from 2035 (previously 2040) to 2030, as part of its Green Industrial Revolution plan. The sale of hybrid cars will be allowed until 2035. To support the acceleration to electrification, the Prime Minister announced:

  • £1.3 billion (US$1.7 billion) to accelerate the rollout of charge points for EVs in homes, streets and on motorways across England, so people can more easily and conveniently charge their cars.
  • £582 million (US$773 million) in grants for those buying zero or ultra-low emission vehicles to make them cheaper to buy and incentivize more people to make the transition.
  • Nearly £500 million (US$664 million) to be spent in the next four years for the development and mass-scale production of EV batteries, as part of a commitment to provide up to £1 billion (US$1.3 billion), boosting international investment into strong manufacturing bases including in the Midlands and North East.

It wasn’t all about car bans and EVs, though. There are several other transport provisions in the plan:

  • Hydrogen: The plan sets a goal to work with industry to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for industry, transport, power and homes, and aiming to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade. It will dedicate £240 million (US$320 million) will go into new hydrogen production facilities.
  • Jet zero and greener maritime: Supporting difficult-to-decarbonize industries to become greener through research projects for zero-emission planes and ships.
  • Carbon capture: The government aims to become a world-leader in technology to capture and store CO2 emissions away from the atmosphere, with a target to remove 10MT of carbon dioxide by 2030, equivalent to all emissions of the industrial Humber today. It will dedicate extra £200 million (US$266 million) of new funding to create two carbon capture clusters by the mid-2020s, with another two set to be created by 2030.

4. World Economic Forum: Joint Policy Proposal to Accelerate the Deployment of Sustainable Aviation Fuels in Europe – A coalition lead the World Economic Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow (CST) initiative aims to change the “chicken-and-egg” dynamic that exists between the costs of conventional jet fuel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), recently putting forward a policy proposal for the Commission to consider that includes the following:

  • Support R&D for SAF.
  • Develop price floors guaranteed by government during the early stages of SAF deployment. SAF producers have said this element is critical for capital intensive projects.
  • Support early deployment by de-risking investment in the first wave of production facilities.
  • Announce in 2021 a SAF blending mandate for European aviation to be enforced no later than 2025 with a blending level increasing progressively through 2050. (No level has been mentioned, but the Coalition has stated it will make suggestions in 2021.) The idea is to promote a unified policy since some European countries are unilaterally introducing regulations such as mandates, fuel taxes and flight taxes which can introduce competitive distortions.

My bet is that the Commission acts on these proposals, even as early as next year. A separate report by the CST, released earlier this month, found that sufficient sustainable feedstocks are available to meet projected jet fuel demand for global aviation in 2030. But to scale up production to meet these targets, SAF production costs must be reduced, and this is reliant on innovative regulatory mechanisms and clear demand signals such as those the CST has put forward. Outlook service members can read more about global SAF developments here.

5. Ars Technica: Carmakers Want to Ditch Battery Packs, Use Auto Bodies for Energy Storage – This story details structural battery research underway at the Imperial College of London. Instead of a conventional battery pack, university researchers are looking to scrap it totally and instead use the vehicle’s body for energy storage. Unlike a conventional battery pack embedded in the chassis, these structural batteries are invisible. The electrical storage happens in the thin layers of composite materials that make up the car’s frame. They’re weightless because the car is the battery. How far away are we from this? According to researchers quoted in the article, maybe 10 years because of their power demands and other regulatory approvals needed. One of the issues being studied right now is how these batteries will react when they’re being used and how that affects the performance of the vehicles they power. Researchers are developing mathematical models to plot and predict these changes.


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.

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