By Charlene Porter
Washington — Representatives from almost 200 nations are meeting in Doha, Qatar, to identify ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the use of carbon-based fuels to slow or stop global warming trends.
A widely accepted, global scientific consensus supports the finding that human activities since the beginning of the industrialized age have contributed to climate change. A failure to contain well-documented warming trends soon will lead to lowland flooding, diminished water supplies and agricultural losses, analysts warn.
The ongoing process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, operable since the 1990s, attempts to achieve a global consensus for action, in the face of the many competing interests of the nations involved. While those talks continue, progress toward greater fuel efficiencies and reduced emissions are still being made on the national, sub-national and local levels.
In the United States, the Obama administration has made progress in boosting the fuel economy standards that auto manufacturers must meet to sell vehicles. The policy — called the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards — were initially adopted in the mid 1970s in response to an oil embargo. At that time, manufacturers were required to achieve an 18 miles-per-gallon (mpg) fuel efficiency average (7.65 kilometers per liter) across their fleet of different models. Less than a decade later, in 1985, the average was boosted to 27.5 mpg (11.7 km/liter). The standard crept upward again in 2011, but now automakers are working to meet incremental benchmarks called for by the Obama administration on their way to a 2025 efficiency standard of 54.5 mpg (23.2 km/liter).
U.S. government and private-industry engineers and technicians are working to squeeze greater efficiency out of every drop of fuel in a number of different ways. They are tinkering with engine combustion efficiency and vehicle weight to create more efficient auto fleets of the future.
The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that higher CAFE standards will result in less fuel use and a lower volume of emissions blowing out the nation’s tailpipes. By 2025, national oil consumption will be down 2.2 million barrels of oil a day with the stronger fuel efficiency standards, DOE predicts.
The 2025 fuel efficiency standards are also expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 65 percent from the predicted 2016 level. Design plans for cars of the future also promise further cuts in soot and particulate matter, which create unhealthy air.
The Obama administration launched another initiative in the first quarter of 2012 to accelerate development of new technologies for hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles available. The EV [Electric Vehicle]-Everywhere Challenge will encourage collaboration among the nation’s brightest and most creative minds to accelerate progress in EV technologies and reduce costs.
“The EV-Everywhere Challenge is focused on advancing electric vehicle technologies and continuing to reduce costs,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, “so that a decade from now, electric vehicles will be more affordable and convenient to own than today’s gasoline-powered vehicles.”
A DOE press release issued with the March 2012 announcement said electric vehicles can be preferable to gas-powered engines by offering savings on fuel and maintenance. With fill-up possible at one’s home overnight, electric vehicles can be more convenient and reliable, and offer the same or better driving performance compared to today’s vehicles, DOE reports.
The ambitious EV-Everywhere Challenge is to make U.S. companies the first in the world to produce a five-passenger, affordable electric vehicle with sufficient range and fast-charging ability to meet the daily transportation needs for average, middle-income families with convenience and low costs.