Vehicle Automation and Carbon Emissions
A recent report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank, discussed the implications of autonmous vehicles on the U.S. transportation system. Although report emphasized passenger vehicles, its conclusions have implications for trucks and cargo as well.
One phenomenon that could be promoted by autonomous vehicles is called highway platooning, in which vehicles follow each other closely on the road. This decreases the air resistance for vehicles following the leader. Research indicates that universal adoption of platooning for light-duty vehicles could reduce the energy intensity of vehicles three percent to 25 percent. If all heavy-duty trucks platooned, a feature that automated technology could facilitate, their energy intensity would drop 10 percent to 25 percent.
Researchers from Volvo published an analysis of the effects of automated features such as platooning and adaptive cruise control, which automatically adjusts the distance between cars when driving. The authors cite a study which found that if every vehicle in the European Union used adaptive cruise control, it would save nearly 700 million liters of fuel each year and prevent 1.7 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Another study performed by Volvo found that using vehicle-to-vehicle communication to platoon vehicles resulted in a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy. A2014 study by the Intelligent Transportation Society of America predicts a two percent to four percent annual decrease in oil consumption as adaptive cruise control and wireless communication spread through the vehicle market.
The best way to minimize emissions from the transportation sector is to combine vehicle automation with electrification, the report concluded. A report by Climate Action Tracker concludes that zero-emission vehicles must take over the global market by 2035, coupled with reducing emissions from the power sector, in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—the internationally agreed-upon target set at the end of 2015 with the Paris climate agreement.
“Electrifying the autonomous vehicle fleet would alleviate concerns about new emissions from the transportation sector, assuming that the electricity sector continues to decarbonize,” the report concliuded. “Policymakers and stakeholders would benefit from a deeper understanding of how the electrification of the transportation system—which must happen to achieve the nation’s climate pollution reduction goals—can proceed in tandem with the automation of vehicles.”
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