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Summary: Pathways to Net-Zero Transportation

An Exploration of Technologies and Policies

By: Dr. Kelly L. Fleming, Senior Fellow – Friday, March 24, 2023

Transportation is integral to the human experience in order to meet our social, health, and economic needs. Innovations over centuries have enabled us to travel far distances (even outside of planet earth) in mere hours or days. However, this convenience has come at a cost to the planet, as the transportation sector is responsible for the largest share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is only continuing to increase. It is clear that more research and analysis is required to realize the clean transportation sector of the future. 

The Institute for Transportation Decarbonization (ITD) has a mission to establish a pathway for the United States to meet its transportation sector emissions targets, through an exploration of available technologies and the policy levers that will help the U.S. meet its goals. ITD launched this effort with the release of the report,“Pathways to Net Zero Transportation in the U.S.: An Exploration of Technologies and Policies,” a detailed overview of the scope of technologies that exist, potential barriers to deployment, the need to invest more in research and development, and the suite of complementary policy options that exist to support clean transportation solutions.

The United States has set out a bold goal to reduce GHG emissions 100% by 2050, including in the transportation sector. While technology innovation has resulted in the increase of GHG emissions from transportation, because of our reliance on fossil fuels, it has also enabled us to reduce emissions without sacrificing convenience. But the breadth and variety of transportation technologies require a holistic and coordinated approach with policymakers to implement in our complex transportation system. 

Why did we conduct this study? Rather than focusing on on-road passenger travel, the report expands the discussion to include more challenging sub-sectors to decarbonize like aviation, heavy-duty trucking, and marine transportation. Researchers and policymakers have understandably prioritized action toward cleaner passenger vehicles, which are currently the largest contributor to transportation emissions. 

However, to effectively transition transportation networks away from fossil fuel reliance, we must start focusing efforts on harder-to-electrify sectors like air, on-road freight, and marine transport, which make up a significant portion of emissions from transportation. The report outlines what technologies currently exist in those areas, including sustainable aviation fuel pathways and electric motors, along with barriers to scale, commercialize, and deploy. It also details technology gaps where more investment or policy support is needed to mature technologies before they can be used widely, such as synthetic fuels from carbon capture. 
ITD will use the results of the report to bring together important stakeholders across the public, private, and non-profit sectors to work together in developing a pathway to zero-emission transportation in the U.S. Read the full report here.

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