This issue of Continuum focuses on our contributions toward creating a sustainable transportation system—from developing more efficient electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to inventing technologies and processes for producing biofuel alternatives to gasoline, diesel, and even jet fuel.
In some ways, the challenges we face in transforming our nation's vehicle fleet and transportation infrastructure are more daunting than those we are overcoming in developing and integrating renewable electricity sources from solar, wind, and geothermal energy.
However, it is critical that we do so. Our transportation system accounts for more than 70% of petroleum consumption in the United States, and more than 30% of our total carbon emissions. Unlike electricity, there is no primary transportation energy "grid" with a network of power plants. Independent oil refineries produce carbon-intensive fuels that then travel by train and truck to thousands of filling stations across the country.
Truly transforming the existing transportation infrastructure to create cost-effective and sustainable alternatives will require close collaboration between government and industry, and a significant shift in consumer attitudes. Is a new transportation future even possible?
The Power to Reduce Our Dependence on Oil
At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), we believe the answer is yes.
We recently completed a landmark transportation study in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The Transportation Energy Futures Study (TEF) demonstrates that we have the potential to reduce our dependence on oil and lower greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% by 2050.
While these deep reductions are indeed possible, the TEF study makes it clear that achieving them will require a combination of strategies. These include increasing the use of biofuels, and lessening the demand for transportation. It will also include an expanded role for electric and hydrogen technologies.
NREL's unique leadership in transportation research focuses on heavy-duty trucks, as well as passenger vehicles, exploring ways to make gas-powered vehicles more efficient, and developing the technology needed to put more electric and biofuel vehicles on the road. Like our other clean energy research, NREL's transportation expertise is integrated across many disciplines including thermal management technologies for electric-drive components and systems, battery design, and hydrogen fuel-cell manufacturing test processes. Take a visual tour of these technologies and more at View: Continuum.
Our scientists are on the next frontier of bioenergy research, developing "drop-in" biofuels that can displace fossil fuels—without requiring modification of our existing fuel infrastructure. NREL is also home to the National Bioenergy Center, where we operate pilot biorefinery facilities to assist private industry in developing cellulosic ethanol formulas and production methods for turning crop and wood wastes into renewable fuels.
I invite you to read about those efforts and more. Transforming how we drive and power our vehicles is not only possible but, we believe, on the horizon. Through scientific innovation, industry partnerships, and accelerated deployment, NREL will lead the way to a sustainable transportation future.