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Opportunities for Reducing U.S. Transportation's Petroleum Usage and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

09/22/2009 4:00 PM 32"124
John Heywood, SM '62, PhD '65, Sun Jae Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Description: While the U.S. has set formidable goals around cutting oil consumption and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, these will likely remain out of reach as long as we continue our romance with big, powerful cars, says John Heywood. This unshakeable passion, alongside the well"established habit of petroleum use, and the expanding consumption of private vehicles in developing nations, foretells a major crisis in sustainable mobility. Although we've known for years this was coming, says Heywood, "We seem to be stuck." He is leading efforts at MIT to develop strategies for moving forward -- identifying the "grand challenges and opportunities" that might bring real transformation to our transportation system.

Heywood presents data illustrating different angles of our current fix. For instance, there's the "horrendous problem" of growth of light duty passenger vehicles, accompanied by even faster"growing freight and air transportation, emitting ever more CO2 between now and 2050. In the same timeframe, the U.S. contemplates tightening fuel consumption standards in order to lower transportation"based greenhouse gas emissions drastically (e.g., by 70"80%). But these targets don't seem viable given the kinds of cars on the road now, and on the drawing board. The mix of more efficient gas engines, hybrids, plug"in hybrids, or all"electric vehicles, Heywood suggests, are unlikely to yield the kind of dramatic reduction in fuel use we're aiming for. This is largely because "in the U.S., people don't like light" vehicles, and prefer "ever greater acceleration performance." The sad fact is that "in the last 25 years, vehicles have become more efficient, while fuel economy has not really changed. Big vehicles are about as efficient as small, but percentage"wise, we consume more fuel."

Heywood argues that greener transportation will only come if we consumers "moderate our expectations." But "behavioral change is tough stuff." The best we can do, Heywood projects, is a slowly evolving passenger fleet: a mix of car technologies that achieve several percentage points' reduction in fuel consumption per year. Alternative fuels such as cellulosic ethanol or fuel from tar sands may play a role in displacing petroleum and reducing emissions. By 2025, perhaps half our new vehicles will have different engines.

To encourage even these slender changes, Heywood recommends continuing the US CAFE requirements beyond 2020; imposing a "feebate" system where people who buy low fuel"consuming cars get a rebate, and those who buy gas guzzlers pay a tax; better management of transportation infrastructure; increasing federal fuel taxes a dime a year for a decade; and developing national strategic policy around alternative fuels.

About the Speaker(s): John Heywood has authored or co"authored 171 publications in journals and conference proceedings, in such areas as automotive technology; energy and transportation, air pollution and combustion.

He started at MIT in 1968 and became director of the Sloan Automotive Laboratory in 1972. He was co"director of the Leaders for Manufacturing Program from 1991"1993. He was appointed co"director of the Ford"MIT Alliance in 2003. He received a B.A. from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. from MIT. He is a member of the National Academy of engineering and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Host(s): School of Engineering, Transportation@MIT

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated 12 months ago

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