Decarbonizing Transportation Featured Pattern: P1032 February 2017

Author: Susan Leiby (Send us feedback.)

Moving the global transportation sector away from fossil-fuel use requires new legislation, technologies, and business models.

Abstracts in this Pattern:

At the November 2016 United Nations (New York, New York) climate meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, participants agreed upon aggressive decarbonization commitments that aim to prevent the global temperature increase from exceeding 2°C this century. To honor these commitments, countries will have to address the transportation sector.

In part to meet tightening regulations, every major automaker is introducing electric vehicles (EVs) that do not use fossil fuel. EV sales are still low, but government policies could spur faster growth. In October 2016, Germany's Bundesrat (Federal Council) voted to ban new registrations of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2030 as part of a larger goal to achieve zero-emission mobility by 2050. The nonbinding resolution has broad support, and Germany's major carmakers already plan to focus increasingly on EVs. Other vehicle makers and players that do not function solely in the automotive industry are also accelerating EV production. Borgward (Bremen, Germany), which is backed by Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co. (BAIC Group; Beijing, China), plans to produce as many as 10,000 EVs in Germany. And technology and entertainment company LeEco (Beijing, China) is going to produce smart bicycles, EVs, and autonomous cars.

Airlines and jet manufacturers are also supporting biofuel development in efforts to meet aviation-industry emissions-reduction goals. Demand for aviation biofuel is currently outstripping supply. In September 2016, JetBlue Airways Corporation (New York, New York) placed an order for 330 million gallons of aviation biofuel, but producers currently make only about 100 million gallons each year. The maritime industry is also facing new carbon-emissions legislation. Royal Caribbean Cruises (Miami, Florida) recently signed an agreement with shipbuilder Meyer Turku (Turku, Finland) for the development of a new class of cruise ship that relies on liquefied natural gas and low-emission fuel-cell technology for power.

New transportation infrastructures could deliver decarbonization side benefits. For example, start-up Zipline (Half Moon Bay, California) has begun operating an electric-drone-based delivery service in Rwanda. Such drone deliveries are faster than ground-based courier deliveries and do not rely on carbon-emitting motorbikes or trucks.