NREL study details how EV adoption could reduce greenhouse gases

Published on November 03, 2023 by Dave Kovaleski

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A study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that the rapid adoption of zero-emission electric vehicles would result in an 80 percent or more drop in transportation greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

For the paper, called “Exploring decarbonization pathways for USA passenger and freight mobility,” NREL researchers conducted thousands of computer simulations on the steps needed to decarbonize passenger and freight travel to arrive at that conclusion. The transportation sector generates about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

“There are reasons to be optimistic and several remaining areas to explore,” said Chris Hoehne, a mobility systems research scientist at NREL and lead author of a new paper. “In the scientific community, there is a lot of agreement around what needs to happen to slash transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, especially when it comes to electrification. But there is high uncertainty for future transportation emissions and electricity needs, and this unique analysis helps shed light on the conditions that drive these uncertainties.”

Hoehne’s co-authors from NREL are Matteo Muratori, Paige Jadun, Brian Bush, Artur Yip, Catherine Ledna, and Laura Vimmerstedt.

The research team analyzed 50 deep decarbonization scenarios, showing that rapid adoption of zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs, is essential along with the transition to a clean electric grid. Also important is managing travel demand growth, which would reduce the amount of clean electricity supply needed.

Using a model called Transportation Energy & Mobility Pathway Options (TEMPO), the researchers performed more than 2,000 simulations to determine what will be needed to decarbonize passenger and freight travel. It explores changes in technology, behavior, and policies to envision how passenger and freight systems can successfully make the transition.

Technology solutions will call for continued advancements in batteries, fuel cells, and sustainable biofuels, while behavior changes relate to shifts in population and travel needs. Further, policy changes may require new regulations that drive the adoption of electric vehicles. If the right combination of strategies are employed, the study found that the maximum potential for 2050 decarbonization is an 89 percent reduction in greenhouse gases relative to 2019.

“Recent progress in technology coupled with the pressing need to address both the climate crisis and air quality issues have elevated the importance of clean transportation solutions,” Muratori, manager of the Transportation Energy Transition Analysis group and architect of the TEMPO model, said. “This shift has made transitioning the entire sector towards sustainability an achievable goal and a top priority in the United States and worldwide.”

The study, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Strategic Analysis Team, will appear in the journal Nature Communications.