The auto industry can play a major role in reducing carbon emissions and energy usage, but people’s habits will have to change. A key factor will be the shift to hybrids and electric vehicles, Coventry University Professor Peter White said during the SAE 2011 World Congress in Detroit.
White, who serves as the Automotive Division Chair for the U.K.’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, kicked off a number of sessions on emissions with an overview titled “Reducing Carbon Emissions – Can the Automobile make a Positive Contribution?” He began by presenting statistics that demonstrated how much more energy industrialized nations consume than underdeveloped countries.
The U.S. is the largest consumer, accounting for nearly a quarter of annual global energy usage. Throughout the industrialized world, transportation plays a major role in CO2 emissions, accounting for 24% of Europe’s output.
Automotive engineers can make a major impact, particularly if they design hybrids and EVs that consumers want to buy. A basic internal-combustion engine produces CO2 emissions of 168 g/km, while a hybrid produces only 155 g/km, White explained. Substantial benefits are achieved by adding regenerative braking to recharge the batteries. Hybrids so equipped reduce CO2 output to 84 g/km.
White also explained that it’s not feasible to depend on biofuels to replace petroleum-based energy. It would take 64% of the U.S. land area to produce enough biofuel to meet the nation’s demand for car and motorcycle fuel, he said.
He also noted that the efforts of automotive engineers may not bring the benefits that are predicted. “User behavior can negate a lot of the engineering work that’s being done,” White said. Driving more aggressively, not inflating tires, and carrying more weight in vehicles are factors that can have a huge negative impact on energy consumption, he explained.
However, human behavior could also play a big role in reducing energy consumption and emissions. Convincing people to take public transportation for short trips, which can generate more than a third of overall transportation emissions, could sharply curtail energy consumption. Using high-speed trains instead of passenger cars for longer trips could also reduce transportation’s energy usage, particularly if trains are fully loaded, White said.
The effort to reduce CO2 emissions must also overcome increased energy usage that will come as global population grows.
“The U.K. uses 2.4% of the world’s energy. If everything in the U.K. was turned off, the benefits would be absorbed by growth worldwide in six months,” White said.