Fuel efficiency of new vehicles could improve by 50 percent in the next two decades and put the world on track to curb global warming if policies are implemented to spur the adoption of automotive technologies that already exist, according to a set of reports released yesterday by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

"We cannot afford to wait for an expected electric and/or hydrogen solution," said Richard Jones, IEA's deputy executive director. "We must act now to move toward a low-carbon transport system. Without such action, transport energy demand will reach unsustainable proportions, particularly in emerging economies."

The transportation sector currently makes up one-fifth of the global energy consumption and could make up all future growth of oil use as the demand for personal mobility increases.

Gasoline and diesel vehicles will continue to dominate the marketplace over the next two decades, making up more than 90 percent of the global fleet in 2030, said the firm. But with the right mix of policies, conventional vehicles can cut fuel consumption in half in the next 20 years.

According to IEA's "Technology Roadmap," internal combustion engines can be significantly improved using cost-effective technologies, such as variable valve actuation and lift, dual-clutch transmission and downsizing. Hybridizing the drive train can cut a vehicle's fuel use by as much as a quarter but comes at a higher cost.

Optimizing the vehicle body with improved aerodynamics and lighter-weight materials can also improve fuel economy. Finally, changing driver behavior with eco-driving training, or the avoidance of sudden starts and stops and idling, can improve fuel efficiency up to 10 percent.

Better consumer education involved
"The report estimates that when you put all those technologies together, you can improve the fuel economy of the average 2005 vehicle by 50 percent without hybridization and 60 percent when you have a full hybrid vehicle," said François Cuenot, an energy analyst with IEA.

The related "Policy Pathway" report explains that better labeling and consumer education, vehicle purchase incentives and fuel economy standards are needed to help bring necessary technologies to market.

Places that have set fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles, including the United States, Europe and Japan, have greatly improved their fuel efficiency in recent years.

The situation is getting better, said Cuenot, but the rate of improvement is too slow to meet the long-term target to keep global warming within 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. To achieve that goal, fuel economy would need to double at a growth rate of 3 percent per year between now and 2030, he said.

Meanwhile, fuel use has started to spike in emerging economies, including India, Mexico and China. In 2008, the average fuel economy of developing countries became worse than the average of developed countries as people bought more and bigger vehicles.

Developing countries will account for two-thirds of energy use in the transport sector by 2050.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500