Transitioning to Sustainable Transportation Energy

Focus Area



Air Quality




Under $99k


Under 1 year

Research Idea Scope

The focus of the project is laying out a vision for sustainable energy for passenger vehicles. The project will:

  1. Identify the role of government policies on energy transitions in addressing near-term economic barriers.
  2. Aim to support market-based solutions in order to allow alternatives to advance simultaneously with the passenger vehicle marketplace selecting the mix among alternative fuel sources.
  3. Ensure the transition will finance a sustainable transportation system.
  4. Consider existing plans by the federal government and the alternative energy industry.
  5. Define an adaptable pathway (e.g., phase-gate process where as technologies advance, they must pass through gates at different phases to continue based on goals achieved, risk assessments, resource availability, and more).

Problem Framing

The project will provide background on the importance and the challenge of the transition to sustainable energy for transportation. Specifically, the project will:

  1. Focus on passenger vehicle market (cars and light-duty trucks).
  2. Provide a historical perspective including the success of hybrid-electric vehicles and failed efforts like the synfuel program.
  3. Define drivers for this transition: energy security, local air quality, climate change, and economic competitiveness.
  4. Identify the three most feasible alternatives that address the drivers mentioned above: biofuels, electricity, and hydrogen.
  5. Expound on the 5 major economic barriers to market acceptance:    

a) Reducing costs by achieving scale economies    
b) Establishing a diverse product line to satisfy consumers’ preferences    
c) Reducing costs and improving performance through learning-by-doing   
d) Overcoming consumers’ aversion to the risk of novel products    
e) Overcoming the “chicken or egg” dilemma of fuel and vehicle availability

Urgency and Payoff

President Obama recently set a national goal to reduce oil imports by one-third by 2020. With sensible fuel economy standards for all on-road vehicles and increases in domestic oil drilling, we are well on our way to achieving this goal. To achieve true energy security and other benefits, the United States will have to move beyond oil in the transportation sector. This paper will define a national vision that will enable the United States to transition to sustainable energy for passenger vehicles.

Suggested By

Nick Nigro, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

[email protected]