Jared Kosters

The transportation sector contributes more than one-quarter of total GHG emissions in the U.S.—so you can bet the sector got its due in the President’s recently announced Climate Action Plan. The plan intends to make good on Obama’s first-term promise to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the year 2020. Last week, Beth Ward explored the debate over efforts  to cap GHG emissions from new power plants. Now, a new Department of Energy investment is looking to put weight behind the transportation sector GHG targets and investment proposals in the Climate Action Plan.

DOE announced $45 million in awards for research and development of vehicle technologies with higher fuel efficiencies, lower transportation costs, and of course, reduced GHG emissions. Advancing vehicle technologies and automotive manufacturing processes could help meet new strict fuel economy standards, potentially saving more than $1.7 trillion. Advancing vehicle technologies and automotive manufacturing processes could help meet  strict fuel economy standards, potentially saving more than $1.7 trillion. DOE lays out five major R&D pathways for the awards:

  • Advanced lightweighting and propulsion materials: Optimized vehicle components through new and advanced lightweight metals, plastics, and composites can significantly reduce vehicle weight and provide an average of 6%–8% improved vehicle economy for every 10% reduction in weight.
  • Advanced batteries: Improved battery cell chemistry and composition, advanced electrolytes, and new battery design tools can reduce battery size and weight by half.
  • Power electronics: Advanced wide bandgap semiconductors such as silicon carbide and gallium nitride can improve the performance of electric vehicle inverters, thereby reducing inverter costs by 30 percent.
  • Advanced heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems: Advanced heating and cooling vehicle technologies would decrease the demand on batteries and increase the vehicle driving range by 20%–30%.
  • Fuels and lubricants: Advanced fuels and lubricants help to reduce friction losses of both current and next-generation vehicles.

There’s a common theme here: advancing electric vehicles. They’re still quite costly, but prices are dropping from new and improved materials, advanced manufacturing processes, and a spike in healthy competition between automobile manufacturers. Last year, the Obama Administration had already set goals to make electric vehicles as affordable as gasoline-powered vehicles within the DOE’s EV Everywhere Grand Challenge. The new investments support these goals by advancing vehicle transportation—from affordability and efficiency to total emissions reductions.

Zeroing in our transportation sector to meet climate goals is a smart strategy that carries prolific benefits. These include lower fuel costs for businesses, reduced dependence on foreign oil, increased industrial competition, job creation, and—if we are ultimately successful in slowing climate change—potentially a smaller price tag on damages caused by devastating weather events that cost $110 billion in 2012 and more than 300 lives.