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A Vision of Our Transportation Future - The Next 30 Years

In the next 30 years, the future of light-duty vehicle transportation includes several powertrains and several fuel choices, but advanced vehicle batteries will play the most significant role. This diagram shows how various powertrain and fuel choices evolve in the next 30 years.

The chart/illustration is titled, 'Vision of Future Transportation.' The byline lists concept by Ahmad Pesaran and illustration by Dean Armstrong. The NREL publication number is NREL/GR-540-40698. It presents a roadmap of how the advancement of batteries and fuels can propel our transportation future. Paved roads are used to illustrate the history and impact of battery advancement on vehicle technologies. The road begins with the following in order: electric vehicles; HEVs: early adopters of HEVs; and consumers asking for plug for plug-in HEV capabilities. The road then splits. The road to the right lists the following in order: HEVs major consumer adoption, and then this road splits with fuel cell vehicles on one road and hybrid electric vehicles on the other. The road to the left lists the following in order: plug-in HEV early adopters; PHEVs: major consumer adoption; and then this road splits with battery electric vehicles heading left, and plug-in hybrid vehicles heading right. Internal combustion engines has its own straight road appearing below these roads. For fuel advancement, the following fuels are listed in a bar chart, with the bars becoming shorter as the list proceeds (shorter shows increased time for advancement): gasoline, natural gas, ethanol blends; diesel, biodiesel blends; B20, biodiesel; E85, cellulosic ethanol; electricity; and hydrogen.

A diagram showing the vision for our transportation future.

On the powertrain side, the internal combustion engine will continue to improve and evolve with advances in emission control and fuel efficiency. The hybrid electric powertrain will become a standard option for consumers when buying vehicles.

The initial technical, regulatory, and political efforts in the 1990s did not produce viable electric vehicles for consumers to adopt, especially for use on highways and everyday use. Now a small, but important segment of the market using low-speed and neighborhood electric vehicles is growing. The development and advancement of electric drive components—such as batteries, motors, generators, invertors, power electronics, and controls—were essential in helping hybrid electric vehicles to evolve.

Hybrid Powertrain

Today, several car companies offer hybrid electric vehicles, and consumers are enthusiastic about their hybrid vehicles. As the price of high-powered batteries and hybrid powertrains continue to drop, more consumers will buy hybrid electric vehicles for the added value of fuel economy, lower emissions, and performance.

As consumers start using hybrid electric vehicles and realize the potential benefits of an electric drive, they will ask for more electric functionality. This is evident as some early hybrid vehicle consumers are asking for plug-in functionality. As batteries with higher energy capabilities start to become less expensive and smaller, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will enter the market, first with a smaller all-electric range and then, as the high-energy batteries become less expensive, with larger all-electric range. With affordable high-power and high-energy batteries, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will become a standard option offered by car companies. With further reduction in cost and increase in energy density of batteries, battery-powered electric vehicles could be offered by car companies for larger portions of the market. With the advancement in fuel cell durability and cost, hybrid fuel cell vehicles could be offered by car companies to capture a segment of the market.

Renewable Fuels and Electricity

On the fuel side, the number of options will grow. Gasoline with and without ethanol blends will continue to be a major fuel, as well as diesel with and without biodiesel blends. Efficient and clean engines will be developed to run on a high concentration of biodiesel (B20, for example) and ethanol (E85). The source of biodiesel and ethanol will come from renewable and greener sources, such as cellulostic rather than direct corn conversions. The electricity for plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles will come initially from conventional plants, but as more wind and solar power plants are added to the utility, the electricity source also becomes greener and renewable. The source of hydrogen for hybrid fuel cell vehicles will come initially from fossil sources but then later from renewable and non-fossil fuel sources through electricity hydrolysis.

In the next 30 years, no one solution will prevail. But batteries will be a major enabling technology in transportation, as they support all the major solutions—from powertrain and fuels choices to plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles.

Ahmad Pesaran — Energy Storage Project Leader