The transformation has already begun, UC Davis transportation expert Dan Sperling told Prime Minister Gordon Brown and a conference of international transportation professionals in London late October.
Sperling, director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, gave the keynote address at a two-day conference commissioned by Prime Minister Brown to explore the challenge of bringing electric vehicles to market. The speech, titled “Toward kinder, gentler cars,“ outlined Sperling‘s predictions and visions for a post-petroleum transportation system.
“I made the argument that the auto and energy industries need to be transformed, and that major shifts are needed in the structure of our cities and our transport system, if we are to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and oil use,“ Sperling said.
The transformation can already be seen on the road in gasoline-electric hybrid cars and will continue to progress with the implementation of plug-in electric hybrids, all-electric cars and fuel-cell vehicles, he said.
Future fuels will eventually be a mix of electricity and hydrogen, he said.
“All will emerge as important replacements for petroleum,“ Sperling said. “What is not known, nor knowable, is how, when and where these fuels will succeed. Some fuels will likely dominate in some regions, while others will dominate elsewhere.“
Sperling sees battery electric vehicles as thriving in large cities and heavily polluted regions while plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles could potentially replace the traditional internal combustion engine on a larger level.
Currently the largest obstacle to bringing plug-in hybrids to market is the expensive battery technology, Sperling said. A plug-in hybrid is essentially a traditional hybrid car with a larger battery pack and can be powered for 40 or so miles using only electricity. After the charge runs out, the car operates as a traditional hybrid until the driver recharges the battery.
While new lithium ion battery technology has made impressive progress technologically, they are simply too expensive, Sperling said. A plug-in hybrid‘s lithium ion battery pack, for example, would currently cost approximately $15,000, although that price could eventually drop.
Sperling also spoke about the role of government and cited what he calls “The California Model“ as an example of what tackling climate change can do for alternative transportation. The state‘s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions via Assembly Bill 32 – which requires emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020 – led the way for Governor Schwarzenegger‘s 2007 executive order establishing the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
“California‘s Low Carbon Fuel Standard is the key policy for orchestrating the transition to alternative fuels,“ Sperling said. “It provides a flexible performance standard to industry.“
The standard is designed to steadily increase over time, first by making a 10 percent reduction in the carbon content of California‘s transportation fuels by 2020.
“The beauty of [the Low Carbon Fuel Standard] is that industry decides how best to reduce carbon, and makes investment decisions accordingly,“ Sperling said. “It provides a durable permanent framework that sets clear requirements for industry.“
Sperling founded the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis in 1991 – an interdisciplinary research, education and outreach program with 50 affiliated faculty members and 100 graduate students.
“ITS is an impartial, cutting edge research group looking at a number of possible new technologies that we‘re going to need to deal with climate change, air pollution and our oil supply,“ said Joan Ogden, professor of environmental science and policy and director of ITS‘ Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways Program. “We‘re not a profit making organization, so we‘re really doing, in some sense, public interest engineering and policy analysis.“
Ogden, who joined ITS five years ago after working at Princeton University, emphasized both the organization and Sperling‘s international standing.
“It‘s a very exciting, dynamic group,“ she said. “It really has international stature and Sperling is a very well-known expert in fuels.“
ITS receives funding from a variety of both public and private sources, Ogden said.
“A lot comes from the government, including the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, the California Air Resources Board as well as the auto, energy and utilities industries,“ she said.
In addition to technical research into hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, electric vehicles and energy pathways, ITS conducts policy analysis on how consumers interact with vehicles and transportation.
“There is a lot of interest in addressing these problems but policy makers often don‘t have all the information … a group like ITS can answer questions,“ Ogden said.
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.