The Environmental and Energy Studies Institute (EESI) and the Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) held a briefing on the conclusions of the newly released EERE Transportation Energy Futures (TEF) study. The study identifies a combined set of strategies to achieve deep cuts in petroleum use and carbon emissions from the U.S. transportation sector, emphasizing underexplored opportunities and challenges along the path to a more sustainable transportation energy future.

  • The Transportation Energy Futures (TEF) Study, a major new study released by the Department of Energy on March 15, 2013, researches ways to reduce oil use in the transportation sector, with the goal of mitigating climate change. The Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Argonne National Laboratory, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) collaborated on the study.
  • According to Michael Carr, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for EERE, the United States imports $1 billion of oil per day, and used 4.4 billion barrels of oil in 2011, of which 71 percent was used in the transportation sector. If the nation is to diversify its energy sources and decrease oil dependence, it is critical to tackle the transportation sector.
  • Arthur Rypinski, an energy economist in the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT), noted that DOT collaborates with EPA on CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards to improve vehicle efficiency.
  • The TEF study identifies possible strategies to achieve reductions of 80 percent or more in both petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from the transportation sector. This is all the more challenging as vehicle use is expected to increase substantially in the next 37 years. Improvements in energy efficiency will be critical to achieve carbon emission reductions.
  • NREL Senior Analyst Austin Brown presented the study, explaining its methodology and summarizing its main findings. The study examines all the current modes, fuels, and service demands of the U.S. transportation system and consists of nine technical reports. It considers both light duty transportation vehicles (cars, small trucks, passenger vehicles) – which represents 55 percent of total petroleum consumption – and non-light duty vehicles (rail, large trucks, aircraft, buses, etc.).
  • According to the study, advanced vehicles that use alternative fuels and non-conventional engines have the potential to dominate the light duty vehicle market by 2050.
  • But Brown identified several non-cost obstacles to the spread of such advanced vehicles: lack of infrastructure, lack of familiarity, uncertainty of perceived benefits, lack of standards, and lack of makes/models.
  • The study suggests that biofuels can displace significant volumes of petroleum in future fuel markets (including half of jet fuel consumption), even in scenarios that do not include carbon pricing.
  • Many alternative fuels will require new infrastructure investments, but these investments are minimal when compared to total fuel costs for consumers. The study predicts approximately $9-$19 billion in investment spending per year compared to $600 billion -$1 trillion in consumer spending on fuel (depending on the scenario and date).
  • Demand reduction strategies, such as better urban design and more efficient driving, can also lead to significant reductions in the need for transportation energy.
  • The TEF study concludes that deep reductions in transportation energy use are technically possible by 2050, as are deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the sector. The United States could conceivably fully replace petroleum with alternative energy sources. Strong coordination between federal agencies, states, and local authorities will be necessary to achieve these goals.