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High-level workshop finds electrification, zero-carbon fuels, zero-carbon fuel standard critical to decarbonizing transportation

July 14, 2021 Work Area: Zero-Carbon Fuels

Boston, July 15, 2021 – Today, Clean Air Task Force (CATF) issued a report that synthesizes the findings from a high-level workshop it convened with 25 researchers and thought leaders from various facets of the global transportation sector to assess options for decarbonization by 2050. The consensus from the workshop was that pursuing various pathways simultaneously, including the advancement of both electrification and zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen and ammonia, is imperative to maximizing the probability of success, and that clean fuel standards can play a critical role in driving the carbon intensity of transportation energy down to zero.

“We’re pleased to present the findings from this fruitful discussion to the public,” said CATF Senior Counsel Jonathan Lewis, who leads the organization’s work to decarbonize the transportation sector. “We convened some of the best minds from every angle of the transportation decarbonization question, explored myriad overlapping and sometimes competing strategies, and landed on a consensus that we must pursue parallel paths simultaneously, while pushing for policy change, to maximize our chances of success. We encourage industry leaders, lawmakers, regulators, and investors alike to review our findings and consider them when weighing how best to pursue deep decarbonization of the transportation sector.”

The group of participants included experts from companies like Toyota, Ford Motor Company, and Exxon Mobil; NGOs like Clean Air Task Force, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Great Plains Institute; the National Renewable Energy Lab and the Gas Technology Institute, and academics from various leading colleges and universities. The group drafted background papers and met virtually via ZOOM workshop on November 9th-11th, 2020, under Chatham House Rules, and worked together on this synthesis report to summarize the key insights from the papers, presentations, and workshop discussions.

Key findings from the session include:

  • Affordability and attractiveness to consumers are key. One prominent message throughout the sessions is that the solutions to reduce emissions from the transportation sector must be affordable and attractive to consumers, in addition to being carbon-free. That will likely mean that the technologies must be either inherently inexpensive or incentivized by government subsidies.
  • Multiple technologies are needed. Broadly speaking, the group found that it made most sense to decarbonize the bulk of the global transportation sector using a combination of electrification and zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen and ammonia. However, additional technologies may play a role in the near- and mid-term.
  • Policy advancements, particularly a zero-carbon fuel standard, will play a central role. In general, workshop participants highlighted policy changes as critical, and agreed that the current pace of policy change is too slow. Specifically, the group discussed the way a low-carbon fuel standard, segueing to or nesting a net-zero-carbon fuel standard by 2050 is likely to be the most viable and adaptive overall framework to decarbonize the transportation sector.

For a more detailed summary of the workshop’s findings, read the full synthesis paper here.

Transportation is the highest emitting sector in the U.S., accounting for 29% of carbon emissions in 2019. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Program on Climate Change (IPCC) found that decarbonizing the global transportation sector, which accounts for 16% of global carbon emissions, is critical to combatting climate change and keeping the planet from warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Lewis continued:

“We absolutely must decarbonize the transportation sector to reduce our global carbon emissions and fend off the worst impacts of climate change. To be successful across all transportation modes, the workshop participants found that we must pursue multiple paths, including deploying different zero-carbon fuels and drivetrains, as appropriate. That will take clear-eyed analysis of the pros and cons of each path, as well as active participation from the private sector and governments to achieve a market and policy landscape that is both durable and adaptive. Policymakers should collaborate with researchers, investors and industry, and make smart decisions that reconcile the need to both solve the climate problem rapidly and bring customers and the public along.”

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