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Green New Deal and the Road

Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Mar 7, 2019 at 7:00 AM
Climate Change

Transportation applications account for approximately 29% of US energy consumption annually. Approximately 60% of this total is motor gasoline for use by automobiles, light trucks and other small to medium engine applications. Approximately 26% of this total is diesel fuel for use in some automobiles and light trucks, but predominantly in heavy duty trucks, road tractors and farm implements. The GND would require that these transportation applications switch from fossil fuels to either electricity or biofuels to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions.

Ethanol/gasoline blends and biodiesel are currently in use in the US as motor fuels. Internal combustion engines can be designed to run on 100% ethanol, but are not now in common use. Ethanol currently represents approximately 10% of US motor gasoline blend consumption, so ethanol production would have to be increased by an order of magnitude to replace gasoline as a motor fuel. However, straight ethanol is not compatible with current motor vehicle engines and fuel systems; and, adaptation of existing vehicles to run on ethanol would be complex and expensive.

Approximately 95% of current US ethanol is produced using field corn while only 5% is cellulose sourced. Production of cellulosic ethanol is currently more expensive, even though it relies primarily on waste products and grasses as its source. However, an order of magnitude increase in production would require greater reliance on crops grown specifically for use in ethanol production, requiring increased agricultural acreage.

Biodiesel currently represents approximately 5% of US diesel fuel consumption. It can be used interchangeably in current diesel engines. Current biodiesel production relies significantly on waste feedstocks, but replacing petroleum distillate with biodiesel would greatly increase dependence on crops grown specifically to support biodiesel production, requiring increased agricultural acreage.

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are currently available for personal use, but offer relatively limited range compared to vehicles operating on gasoline/ethanol blends or biodiesel. Also, battery electric vehicles typically require several hours to recharge their batteries compared to the few minutes required to refuel gasoline and diesel vehicles. Vehicle range and recharging time are functions of the installed battery capacity in the vehicles, the rate at which the batteries can accept charge and the capability of the charging station. The current state of the technology limits BEVs to roughly half the range of current gasoline and diesel vehicles.

The first BEV road tractors are expected to be introduced to the US market in 2019. The road tractor is expected to have an operating range of approximately 500 miles and a recharging time of approximately 30 minutes. BEV transit buses are currently available, with an estimated range of approximately 350 miles, which would satisfy the requirements of many urban routes. This technology could be applied to tour buses as well, though the requirement for under-floor baggage storage would limit volume available for batteries, probably limiting operating range significantly.

BEVs are currently more expensive than gasoline and diesel vehicles, primarily because of the cost of the batteries. BEVs with longer ranges require larger battery packs and consequently are more expensive than those with limited range.

There are currently approximately 270 million motor vehicles operating in the US. The GND would obsolete all of the current vehicles with the exception of the diesel vehicles remaining at the end of the 10 year implementation period, assuming that sufficient biodiesel fuel were available to fuel the diesel vehicles. The residual value of these vehicles, on the order of $1 trillion, would be a deadweight loss.

There are currently 120 million vehicle fossil fuel dispensers in the US. Simply replacing these dispensers with high speed electric vehicle charging Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) would require an investment of approximately $3 trillion. However, the greater time required to recharge electric vehicles might well require a significantly greater number of EVSEs, perhaps doubling or even tripling the investment required.