Vehicles In 2050: No Petroleum Required, DoE Says

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Audi Urban Future: Project New York -- visions of five up-and-coming New York architects

Audi Urban Future: Project New York -- visions of five up-and-coming New York architects

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It's both exciting and frustrating living in the current automotive age.

Exciting, because we're truly seeing an eclectic mix of powertrain technologies being developed, the fruits of which we're increasingly able to drive. And frustrating, because there's still no surefire way of knowing what we'll be driving in the future.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) thinks that future energy mix might not involve petroleum though--which could disappear entirely from the transport sector by 2050.

That's according to a new report as part of the Transportation Energy Futures project (via Green Car Congress). As well as the disappearance of petroleum, greenhouse gases could be reduced by 80 percent.

There's a number of factors which influence the above statistics, not least a reduction in use compared with today. Higher prices are likely to account for some of that, but the report also says changes in built environments could be a factor--improved public transportation, technology allowing more people to work from home, and more.

That's already happening in Europe, where many city centers will be zero-emissions by 2050. "Carbon taxes" for regular vehicles and incentives for electric transport is already making some centers fossil-fuel unfriendly--and it's only likely to increase over the next few decades.

A mixture of other technologies will help reduce demand further, including increased use of electric and hydrogen vehicles. Shell's CEO has previously stated that 40 percent of vehicles will be electric by 2050, and another report says that 7 in every 8 vehicles sold in California could be zero-emission by 2050.

Other powertrains could make up  much of the rest. Liquid fuel won't disappear altogether, either--biofuels will take the place of fossil fuels in areas where liquid fuels are essential.

That includes the jet fuel market, where up to 50 percent could be biodiesel (a process already in motion with the first part-biofuel route now in service) even at pessimistic estimates. Of course, these figures will have to struggle against a likely increase in air travel, and other "non-light duty vehicles" such as trucks and ships are also expected to increase in numbers, making the task a difficult one.

At the optimistic end, a prior report predicts the vast majority of all energy produced could in fact be green energy by 2050.

In reality, the actual figure is likely to be somewhere between the two, unless there are significant, unforseen advances in technology by then. Which is always possible, but never a certainty.

There is a lot of work to be done--the transportation sector accounts for 71 percent of total U.S. petroleum consumption, which is quite a habit to kick. It also emits 33 percent of the country's carbon emissions.

In an ideal world, the path would be easy to follow. But then, few things worthwhile are ever easy--and kicking our fossil fuel habit in the next forty years is certainly a worthwhile goal.


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Comments (39)
  1. And we are also supposed to have our own personal George Jefferson flying machines by now. Problem 1: There is NO SUCH THING as zero emissions. This fallacy has been repeated enough that greenies actually believe it without question. Problem 2: Trusting anything coming out of an institution that has no stake in economic reality or reality in general cannot be trusted with predictions or selecting what type of product is "good" for the public (see low flush toilets and CFL bulbs). Neither of these products work as well as intended or "prophesized" by our government that possesses infinite wisdom. Why trust them with managing how we function on a daily basis.

  2. Problem 3: Only suckers buy into the man-made greenhouse effect when the scientists responsible for bringing "infallible" results of studies got caught "fudging" or flat out lying (hockey stick theory). Problem four: Biofuel jacks up the prices of food by utilizing farm land for making fuel. Not enough land space exists to accommodate demand for both food and fuel.

  3. This sucker is saving $359 a month on fossil fuel net the increase in electricity to power my 2013 Nissan Leaf. Greenhouse or no greenhouse, money back in my pocket matters a lot instead of throwing it at the gas companies.

  4. Fossil fuels include coal and natural gas which are what powers your "zero emission" Leaf.

  5. At least I'm not driving around my own little coal plant like I used to. Gotta start somewhere. If you don't want to be part of the problem start being part of the solution even if it means starting somewhere. This is the beginning of making a difference even if it's not the perfect solution at least it's better than doing nothing. If you believe my car isn't zero emissions then why can I stand in my garage with the door closed and not die? There is simply more emissions dangerous to us that come from autos than you are admitting. Test: stand in your garage with the door closed and then respond to this. It takes less coal to power my car than it takes gasoline to power a car.

  6. You also are assuming that all EV drivers are plugging into the 'grid'. There are some who plug in every night to solar. In my area, energy is also being produced by wind. I guess more and more, EV's will be powered independently of coal. I will be solar powered very soon by a company called Regenen.

  7. Hmmm...I have a 2013 Volt and am also saving over $300/mon+ in fossil fuel....and my car is powered by my 15k KwH solar system...95% of my driving is on pure electric and I don't even pay to charge the car.

  8. There are more comments in this thread
  9. The parts of the plants we do not eat can be used to make biofuel. The leaves, stalks and cob of corn plants for example. We have oil companies that are "flaming" natural gas from existing oil wells because they have more natural gas then the market requires. We have Methane gas that is allowed to release into the air at sewage treatment plants. All of these could be used to to power transportation instead of new drilling, fracking, and tar sands.

  10. Cellulose based fuels (stalks, leaves, corn cobs) are very expensive/difficult to make right now. No owner of a natural gas well is going to "flame" natural gas from a well because of the market price of NG. They cap the well and wait until the price justifies recovering the NG. That sewage methane is probably very difficult to recover and make a profit at the same time. The potential for drilling, fracking, and tar sands actually polluting is manageable. You need to do more research outside of information provided by greenpeace on fracking and tar sands.

  11. gee you made me read thru all these posts looking for your elaboration on the failure of low flush toilets and CFL's.

    the only thing even remotely resembling a failure in the bathroom were the "no flush" toilets. we had them installed at work and they lasted about a year before being removed...

  12. See below.

  13. There is so much there to comment on, but let's go with low-flush toilet.

    It used to be that 3.5 gal/flush was the norm and now 1.6 gal/flush is the norm. Aside from some very poorly made toilets, 1.6 gal does the job and has been the norm for 20 years or more.

    Now we have dual flush pressurized toilets with 0.9 gal/flush or 1.6 gal/flush. These work so well that the "little flush" is adequate for all needs.

    In addition to working well, the toilets paid for themselves in just a few years in areas of high water and sewer rates.

    Is this a "green" thing or a "common sense" thing? The latter in my opinion, although I have sympathy for anyone who has purchased a low quality low-flow toilet.

  14. It very well may be a common sense thing, but it is not the role of the government to mandate/ban products. I can't begin to count the times I have had to screw with stopped-up toilets since our government banned the old toilets. I have a great low flush toilet now, but I had to pay BIG bucks for it. Good toilets are not cheap. People who can't afford a new toilet are stuck with crap (pun intended). I have two old light fixtures that can't send the proper current to CFL bulbs, but the BAD incandescent bulbs work just fine in them. When I run out of the incandescent bulbs I stocked up on, I will either have to replace the fixture or buy a new house. Neither option is palatable to someone living on a day-to-day budget.

  15. At least, not OUR government.

  16. "I have two old light fixtures that can't send the proper current to CFL bulbs"

    Huh? that sounds dangerous. Do you mean they are "dimmer" based? If not, then you have a serious problem with your electrical system...

  17. They are smoke or anything when a standard incandescent bulb is burning. Works like nothing is wrong until a CFL is screwed in. It doesn't even flicker with the CFL...just no light.

  18. George Jetson

  19. There are more comments in this thread
  20. this makes you wonder why we are wasting money fighting over tar sands oil. Forward!

  21. Lenin called his newspaper "Vperod". "Vorwaerts" was the name of the newspaper of the Social Democratic Party in Germany. Both words mean the same thing...Forward.

    Coincidence??? I don't think so.

  22. @Randall: Wow, not only have you written 8 of the 13 comments on this article, you have also proved Godwin's Law...all in less than 6.5 hours.


  23. Hitler's party was called "National Socialist German Workers' Party". Hitler banned the Social Democratic Party in 1933. Nothin' Godwin there. So I guess it is you, John, who gets the prize for proving Godwin's Law. Your Obama bobblehead is in the mail.

  24. Who the H--l is George Jefferson?

  25. See "George Jetson" comment above.George Jetson...not George Jefferson.

  26. You never saw "All in the Family"?


  27. Yes Randall, there is zero emissions. Get an electric car and solar panels. We did, and it works silently and well.

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