Greenhouse Emissions and Light-Duty Vehicles

Although air quality and energy security considerations have been the primary impetus for policy seeking to accelerate the development of advanced automotive technologies, these technologies also can play an important role in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The administration has been sponsoring a greenhouse policy process called “Cartalk” that has brought together representatives of environmental organizations, automakers, and various transportation industries, as well as other interested parties in an effort to devise transportation policies that will reduce U.S. greenhouse emissions.

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Effect of greenhouse

It is OTA’s understanding that policies to accelerate technology development have assumed a prominent role on Cartalk’s agenda. The “greenhouse effect”–a warming of the earth and the atmosphere-is the result of certain atmospheric gases absorbing the thermal radiation given off by the earth’s surface and trapping some of this radiation in the atmosphere.

The earth has a natural greenhouse effect, owing primarily to water vapor, clouds, and carbon dioxide (C02 ), that maintains its temperature at about 60o F warmer than it would otherwise be. What is now of concern to scientists is the potential for increasing levels of C02 and other gases to increase the earth’s temperature even more-causing strong changes in sea level, storm frequency, rainfall patterns, and other conditions that would have enormous consequences on the manmade and natural environment.

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All about greenhouse

Although there are some continuing disagreements and uncertainties associated with these impacts, most atmospheric scientists accept the likelihood that global average temperatures will increase by 3° to 8°F, if global C02 concentrations double-a likelihood in the next century.

As a result, improvements in vehicle fuel economy are considered a key strategy in combating future global warming. Generally, improvements in vehicle fuel economy will scale proportionately with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This is not true, however, if there is a fuel change, because vehicles using alternative fuels may have C02 and other greenhouse gas emissions that are strongly different from the emissions of gasoline vehicles.

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For example, electric vehicles have zero emissions, at least directly from the vehicle; the electric power used to recharge the vehicles will have C02 emissions determined primarily by the generation technology and fuel choice– from zero or negligible for nuclear power and hydroelectric power production, to levels high enough, for coal powered generation, to raise total fuel-cycle emissions for electric vehicles to approximately the same or higher than fuel-cycle emissions for gasoline-powered vehicles.

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