Evaluation of Long-term Regional Strategies for Alternative Powering of Vehicles

Focus Area

Environmental Considerations in Planning








2-3 years

Research Idea Scope

The objective of this research is to develop approaches for evaluating long-term regional strategies for the use of alternative vehicle power sources. The vision is that the approaches developed may be incorporated into decision support software that may then be utilized as part of long range transportation planning processes at the state and federal levels. Such strategic planning and evaluation activities are not new and a large amount of research and case studies in this area exist. However, developing effective strategies for the development and use alternative vehicle power sources adds new dimensions to an already complicated, multi-dimensional problem. Measurement and evaluation of costs and environmental impacts of establishing an alternative power infrastructure versus powering vehicles with alternative source is not well understood. This issue is clearly complicated by regional differences where in some regions the development of hydro/wind power may be much more appealing than the development of and use of biofuels, for example. Issues of transportation infrastructure financing must be considered since the use of alternative power source may not permit a “gas tax like” revenue collection system.  

This research will undertake to develop a generalized method for assessing long-term alternative vehicle powering strategies on a regional basis on an economic and environmental sustainability basis. This scope is based on the premise that alternative energy generation and/or supply chains are most appropriately constrained to a regional, rather than national, level in the United States. Economic and environmental metrics remain the most tangible and assessable using quantitative methods. Future research will necessarily involve social sustainability metrics, which are beyond the scope of the proposed work. The research approach will focus on the identification of needed data, which may be both in quantitative and qualitative form, and developing proper methods for synthesizing the data to generate measures relative to multiple dimensions. These activities will require surveying and interviewing consumers and appropriate individuals from industry and planning agencies, in addition to reviewing the technical research literature.

The assessment method to be devised will encompass a variety of energy sources suitable for vehicle powering, including nonrenewable fossil fuels, biofuels (corn-based ethanol and lignocellulosic ethanol) and electric vehicle powering (coal, natural gas, wind, and hydro power). This will allow flexibility in assessing a variety of energy scenarios for diverse regions of the country. The method will be demonstrated for the Pacific Northwest, and the region compared to potential strategies for a contrasting region of the country.

Urgency and Payoff

State and regional governments and consumers are uncertain about the most appropriate long-term strategies for vehicle powering due to localized variations in energy source profiles, driving patterns, and other factors. Alternative vehicle powering has continued to be an issue of global importance due to current use rates of nonrenewable fossil fuels and related economic, environmental, and security concerns. This research will lead to a structured data-driven approach to support planning processes that explicitly consider multiple environmental dimensions and regional differences. This method will be flexible and applicable to different regions. In addition, a case study for the Pacific Northwest will lead to tangible conclusions that will immediately contribute to strategic planning and decision making for sustainable transportation.

Suggested By

Karl R. Haapala and David S. Kim, School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineeering, Oregon State University

[email protected], [email protected]