A friend just e-mailed me that the most downloaded article from January to March 2007 for the journal Energy Policy was my article “The car and fuel of the future,” from the November 2006 issue. The article is for subscribers only, but you can read a longer version here. This is the article’s abstract:
This paper is based on a review of the technical literature on alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) and discussions with experts in vehicle technology and energy analysis. It is derived from analysis provided to the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy [NCEP].
The urgent need to reverse the business-as-usual growth path in global warming pollution in the next two decades to avoid serious if not catastrophic climate change necessitates action to make our vehicles far less polluting.
In the near-term, by far the most cost-effective strategy for reducing emissions and fuel use is efficiency. The car of the near future is the hybrid gasoline–electric vehicle, because it can reduce gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions 30 to 50% with no change in vehicle class and hence no loss of jobs or compromise on safety or performance. It will likely become the dominant vehicle platform by the year 2020.
Ultimately, we will need to replace gasoline with a zero-carbon fuel. All AFV pathways require technology advances and strong government action to succeed. Hydrogen is the most challenging of all alternative fuels, particularly because of the enormous effort needed to change our existing gasoline infrastructure.
The most promising AFV pathway is a hybrid that can be connected to the electric grid. These so-called plug-in hybrids or e-hybrids will likely travel three to four times as far on a kilowatt-hour of renewable electricity as fuel cell vehicles. Ideally these advanced hybrids would also be a flexible fuel vehicle capable of running on a blend of biofuels and gasoline. Such a car could travel 500 miles on 1 gal of gasoline (and 5 gal of cellulosic ethanol) and have under one-tenth the greenhouse gas emissions of current hybrids.