Assessing Direct and Indirect Lifecycle GHG Impacts of Advanced Fuels and Vehicles

Focus Area



Air Quality




Over $750,000



Research Idea Scope

Problem Statement
Regulatory and market pressures are mounting that would encourage a transition of the ground transportation system toward advanced fuels and vehicles. In the US, EPA and NHTSA have begun a joint rulemaking process that coordinates GHG emission standards and Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. The EU has committed to a 20 percent reduction in GHG emissions (relative to 1990 levels) by 2020. By 2020, Canada has committed to reduce GHGs by 20 per cent from their 2006 level and by 2050 expects to achieve a 60 to 70 per cent reduction over 2006. The American Clean Energy and Security Act has moved through the House of Representatives. It sets the goal of a 17 per cent reduction of greenhouse gases below 2005 levels by 2020. The latest Senate draft bill – Boxer-Kerry – would change that goal to a 20 per cent reduction. At the same time the EPA is developing regulatory proposals under the existing Clean Air Act.
Many countries are tightening regulation of vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. China announced in May 2009 that it would require automakers to improve fuel economy by an additional 18% by 2015; raising fuel economy to approximately 42 mpg. China has increased taxes on large engine vehicles (over four liters) to 40%, increased taxes on vehicles with engines between three and four liters to 25%, and decreased the tax on small engine vehicles (1-1.5 liters) to 1%. In April 2009, the EU adopted regulations requiring a reduction of CO2 emissions from new passenger cars from 159g/km (in 2006) to a maximum of 130g/km by 2015, corresponding to a fuel economy of 48.9 mpg. The EU also set a target for 2020 emissions of 95 g/km (subject to review prior to becoming a standard). Japan has set a fuel economy target of 48 mpg by 2010. Australia will increase fuel economy standards to 34.4 mpg by 2010. Most EU countries currently have carbon-emissions based taxes on cars, and those EU members that do not currently do so have committed to do so.
The challenge for research is to quantify the direct and indirect lifecycle GHG impacts of the advanced fuels and vehicles that will be necessary to meet these tightening automotive standards, and to determine whether they will, on net, contribute to total GHG emissions reductions from all sources. An assessment of direct impacts on lifecycle GHG emissions from a particular fuel or vehicle technology is complex, even assuming no change in upstream or downstream markets. Modeling impacts on prices and quantities in upstream and downstream markets is the key to assessing indirect impacts. For example, increasing the use of biofuels could shift agricultural production toward more GHG-intensive technologies for producing both biofuels and food.
This project will assess the direct and indirect technical and market channels through which advanced fuels and vehicle technologies are likely to affect overall GHG emissions.

Review previous work in this area with particular attention to analysis by the US EPA of renewable fuels standards.
Identify the upstream and downstream markets likely to be affected, and the likely qualitative impacts on them.
Markets to include: agricultural products, electricity, fuel feed stocks (e.g., natural gas use by chemicals industry), automotive components and materials, fueling and road infrastructure, driver behavior and VMT, labor markets, investment markets
Identify strengths and weaknesses of alternative modeling approaches; including CGE models, agent based models, and dynamic nonlinear systems models
Quantify impacts of advanced fuels and vehicles in terms of life cycle (direct and indirect) GHG emissions and market costs of related/affected products and services.
Quantitative assessment of key strategic alternatives; including a comprehensive sensitivity analysis of each model’s parameters
Identify the parameters that are most important for further research.
Related Work
Delucchi, M. A. (2003). A Lifecycle Emissions Model (LEM): Lifecycle Emissions from Transportation Fuels, Motor Vehicles, Transportation Modes, Electricity Use, Heating and Cooking Fuels, and Materials, University of California, Davis: 444.
Delucchi, M. A. (2004). Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Lifecycle Analyses of Transportation Fuels. Institute of Transportation Studies. Davis, University of California: 25.
Gurgel, A. C., J. M. Reilly, and S. Paltsev. 2008. Potential Land Use Implications of a Global Biofuels Industry. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.
John Heywood, Patricia Baptista, Irene Berry, Kandarp Bhatt, Lynette Cheah, Fernando de Sisternes, Valerie Karplus, David Keith, Michael Khusid, Donald MacKenzie, and Jeff McAulay, An Action Plan for Cars: The Policies Needed to Reduce U.S. Petroleum Consumption and GHG Emissions, MIT Energy Initiative, Report No. MITEI 2009-01 RP, September, 2009
IEA (International Energy Agency). 2006. World Energy Outlook 2006. Paris: IEA. 69. IEA 2006.
Mitchell, Donald, “A Note on Rising Food Prices,” World Bank July 2008.
NRC (National Research Council). 2007. Water Implications of Biofuels Production in the United States. Washington, DC: National Academies Press
Timothy Searchinger, Ralph Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, Fengxia Dong, Amani Elobeid, Jacinto Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz, Dermot Hayes, and Tun-Hsiang Yu (29 February 2008) Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change, Science 319 (5867), 1238. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1151861]
Sabrina Spatari, Michael O’Hare, Kevin Fingerman, Daniel Kammen, Alex E. Farrell, Sustainability and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Energy and Resources Group 2Goldman School of Public Policy University of California, Berkeley 9/X/08
Tilman, D., J. Hill, and C. Lehman. 2006. “Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low-Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass.” Science 314: 1598–1600.
UM and NREL 2009. Technical Challenges of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles and Impacts to the U.S. Power System. Task 1: Technological Barriers for Acceptable PHEV Performance and Cost; Task 2a: Plug�in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (Consumer Survey); Task 2b: PHEV Marketplace Penetration, An Agent Based Simulation; Task 2c: Market Models for Predicting PHEV Adoption and Diffusion; and Task 3: Impact of PHEVs on the Reliability of the Electric Grid
University of Michigan, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at Davis, and Northwestern University, Environmental Policy, Auto Design, & Materials Flows, Ongoing NSF project.
World Bank, World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, 2007.
World Bank, World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change, 2009.
Urgency/PriorityThe proposed research will contribute to the ongoing debate on the relative merits of advanced fuels and vehicle technologies in advancing the goal of reducing overall GHG emissions.

Urgency and Payoff

The desired project outcome is a final report outlining the channels of indirect impacts and qualitative and quantitative assessments under key strategic scenarios. The report should include a critical comparison of alternative modeling approaches, a comprehensive sensitivity analysis of model parameters, and directions for future research.
This research will refine our understanding of channels of indirect impacts of advanced fuel and vehicle technologies on GHG emissions.

Suggested By

RNS. Sponsoring Committee: A0020T, Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy Source Info: Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy January 2010 Workshop