BSR Report: Future of Fuels is ‘Efficiency’

by | Oct 10, 2012

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With world energy consumption set to rise by about 40 percent by 2030, the sources and structures of transportation fuel systems will radically change, according to a new BSR report.

The Sustainability Impacts of Fuel — the first report in sustainability consulting firm BSR’s Future of Fuels initiative — assesses the total sustainability impacts of commercial transportation fuels: gas/diesel, natural gas, biofuel, hydrogen, electric power (battery-powered vehicles), and efficiency, because the report says the savings available in reducing energy use can provide an important source of additional energy.

Advanced technologies for renewable and clean energy will require major investments and policy support to become commercially significant, the report finds.

It says the greatest certainty in the future of fuels is the growing diversification of fuels in the marketplace, with oil ceding part of its share to all other fuel types.

The climate impacts of fuels vary between oil, gas, biofuels and electric feedstocks, according to the report.

For oil and gas, combustion of the fuel generates GHGs. Vehicle tailpipes account for 70 to 80 percent of life-cycle emissions, which are the same regardless of the crude oil used. The largest climate impact occurs in the consumption phase.

Biofuels, on the other hand, have a carbon-neutral fuel consumption phase, according to the report. This is because the carbon stored in the feedstock originated from the atmosphere only a short time before consumption.

The study says electric vehicles can potentially produce zero emissions if powered by grids that burn renewable energy. In reality, however, it says climate impacts of different grids are mixed, and climate benefits of EVs can be offset or reversed when powered by grids with large coal portfolios.

The report concludes efficiency is the best “fuel” for mitigating climate impacts, and says energy efficiency offers the greatest carbon reduction per dollar spent. Reduced demand can potentially reduce harmful effects on the climate throughout the value chain system, it says, adding that this is also true across economic and societal impacts.

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