- There is no one-size-fits-all solution to cutting petroleum consumption, according to a new report by the National Research Council.
- The NRC's 19-member committee included specialists in the areas of science, fuel technology, automobile development and the environment, representing all points of view on the subject.
- John O'Dell, Edmunds senior editor for Fuel Efficiency and Green Cars, was asked to serve on the committee to provide expertise on the consumer perspective.
WASHINGTON — There is no one-size-fits-all solution to cutting petroleum consumption, according to a new report by the National Research Council. The report suggests ways to reduce light-vehicle petroleum consumption and emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
The report recommends a multi-pronged approach on the part of automobile manufacturers, fuel producers and the government.
Maximizing efficiency in conventional engines will play a significant role as new technologies and fuel sources are developed.
In the short term, the cost of operating alternative vehicles will go down, but the price of the vehicles themselves will be an issue for another decade.
The NRC's 19-member committee included specialists in the areas of science, fuel technology, automobile development and the environment, representing all points of view on the subject. John O'Dell, Edmunds senior editor for Fuel Efficiency and Green Cars, was asked to serve on the committee to provide expertise on the consumer perspective.
O'Dell was impressed by the amount of brainpower assembled to work on the project and by how the diversity of perspectives was set aside to tackle difficult issues and arrive at a consensus.
"The committee members worked incredibly hard," O'Dell said, "and they didn't hesitate to put in extra time to ensure good results."
For his part, O'Dell brought many years of experience studying and reporting on automotive technology and fuel efficiency to the committee sessions.
He said: "I tried to bring to the table a sense of the consumer angle, to introduce a real-world consumer sensibility into the discussions."
The report, Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels, was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy and contains recommendations for achieving an 80 percent reduction in petroleum use and greenhouse-gas emissions by the year 2050 and a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by 2030.
The NRC determined that it is too early, given what we know today, to determine which fuels and vehicle technologies will prevail, and thus research should continue on all fronts, and government policies should be "broad, robust and adaptive." Success will require both maximizing the efficiency of internal-combustion engines and developing new energy sources and technologies, including biofuels and electric and/or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
The report stated that private enterprise should take the lead in research and development. Government should play a limited role, primarily encouraging the development and use of alternative fuels and vehicles. This could include taxes, fees, rebate programs and other incentives.
In addition to technical development, the study found, substantial effort must be put into gaining consumer buy-in and educating the public on the various vehicle and fuel options. It also determined that auto manufacturers alone cannot achieve the goals; fuel and power industries must also be involved.
The report also stated that as petroleum prices rise and the cost of new technology falls, prices of alternative fuels and vehicles will become more competitive in the marketplace. In the short term, however, even though the cost of driving will go down with alternative vehicles, the price of the vehicles themselves will remain a consumer issue for at least another decade.
The study concluded: "Making the necessary changes, improvements and expansion in the non-petroleum fuel infrastructure will be costly; however, our analyses show the societal benefits are many times larger than the projected costs. Even if the goals are not completely met, partial success can still yield valuable benefits."
The NRC, a branch of the National Academies of Science, is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide policy-making advice, increase public understanding and disseminate knowledge in the areas of science, engineering, technology and health.
The report is available online.
Edmunds says: Unusually for a study of this type, the NRC report takes a long-range look at the issues of petroleum use and greenhouse-gas emissions that includes the consumer perspective.