Cost And Resource Implications Of Light-Duty Vehicles In Addressing Climate Concerns

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Three interconnected papers (Harvey 2017, 2018a,b) assess (i) the implications for the long-term price of oil when achieving reductions in oil-related CO2 emissions that are consistent with the Paris climate agreement to limit global mean warming to no more than 2.0⁰C above pre-industrial; (ii) the feasibility and cost of achieving these reductions for passenger light-duty vehicles (LDVs), and (iii) the implications in terms of land area or metal resource requirements of different options for achieving the required reductions for LDV oil use.

In order to have merely a 60% chance of staying below the Paris target, global fossil fuel emissions will need to drop to zero by about 2060. The options for eliminating oil use for LDVs by mid-century include constraints on the growth in transportation demand by LDVs, production of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) that are 3-4 times more fuel-efficient in urban driving and 2-3 times more fuel efficient in highway driving than today’s conventional vehicles, shifting some or all of the HEV fuel requirements to C-free electricity (using plug-in hybrid electric vehicles [PHEVs] or battery electric vehicles [BEVs]), or replacing residual fuel requirements with biofuels or hydrogen, the latter produced electrolytically from C-free electricity sources (among other options).

Harvey (2017) identifies combinations of technical and behavioral measures across all oil-consuming sectors that lead to progressively lower global demand for oil, ending with a scenario that eliminates global oil demand by 2060. The cumulative oil consumption from 2010 to the point when zero oil demand is achieved is compared with a curve of cumulative oil supply vs marginal cost.

Assuming that oil is consumed in order of increasing cost, the price of oil need not rise significantly above $25-35/bbl. Even significantly less stringent efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, in which oil use is only 20% below the 2015 level by 2100,  need not see oil rise much above $50/bbl. With strong climate policies, the peak in oil demand occurs before the supply-constrained peak in oil production would occur. This would render expensive oil (>$50/bbl) permanently uneconomic. This includes oil from the Canadian oil sands (currently costing $65-95/bbl for new greenfield developments) and most shale oil (with current costs of $48-65/bbl) and deep offshore oil.

Harvey (2018a) reviews recent literature concerning the expected future cost and energy intensity of advanced internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs), HEVs, PHEVs, fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), and BEVs. An extensive analysis is undertaken of a detailed, simulation-based forecast of feasible vehicle performance and cost through to 2045 by Argonne National Laboratory. Two economic measures, the net present value and total cost of ownership, are projected.

As noted above, advanced HEV would require 3-4 times less fuel per km driven in urban driving than today’s ICEV and 2-3 times less in highway driving, while advanced PHEVs in electric mode and advanced BEVs would require about 10% of the energy (as electricity) per km that today’s ICEVs use (as fuel). HEVs are close to cost-competitive today while PHEVs and BEVs require large subsidies. Rather than subsidizing or mandating the early market uptake of PHEVs and HEVs, a better strategy would be to rapidly increase automobile fuel efficiency standards to that which can be achieved only with HEVs, with modest support for PHEVs, followed by the support for energy efficient fuel cell-PHEVs and/or BEVs if technological developments necessary for century time-scale and longer sustainability are achieved.

The different strategies for eliminating LDV oil use by 2060 have dramatically different implications concerning land area requirements (for biofuels), additional electricity requirements (for electric vehicles or to produce hydrogen electrolytically), and in the demand for potentially limiting metals (Pt, Ru, Li and Nd in particular). These requirements are assessed in Harvey (2018b). The scenarios for the growth of the global vehicle fleet used in Harvey (2017) are combined with recent estimates of potential reductions in battery, fuel cell and motor power requirements, material loadings per unit power, and recycling potential in order to generate scenarios of future land area and precious metal requirements.

For any of the alternative to fossil fuels to be sustainable over the next century, LDV energy intensity must be pushed to the lowest technically achievable potential, significant reductions in precious metal loadings must be achieved, and 90% or better recycling efficiency must be achieved. Even then, longer term sustainability is not guaranteed, which implies that the main emphasis in urban development and redevelopment over the next century should be to create cities with little to no dependence on private automobiles for transportation.

These findings are described in the articles entitled Implications for the floor price of oil of aggressive climate policies, and, Cost and Energy Performance of Advanced Light Duty Vehicles: Implications for standards and subsidies, recently published in the journal Energy Policy; and Resource implications of alternative strategies for achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions from light-duty vehicles by 2060, recently published in the journal Applied EnergyThis work was conducted by L.D. Danny Harvey from the University of Toronto.


  1. Harvey LDD. 2017. Implications for the floor price of oil of aggressive climate policies, Energy Policy 108, 143-153.
  2. Harvey LDD. 2018. Cost and Energy Performance of Advanced Light Duty Vehicles: Implications for standards and subsidies, Energy Policy 114 1-12.
  3. Harvey LDD. 2018b. Resource implications of alternative strategies for achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions from light-duty vehicles by 2060, Applied Energy 212, 663-679.
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