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    Electrifying cars and light trucks to meet Paris climate goals

    On Aug. 5, the White House announced that it seeks to ensure that 50 percent of all new passenger vehicles sold in the United States by 2030 are powered by electricity. The purpose of this target is to enable the U.S to remain competitive with China in the growing electric vehicle (EV) market and meet its international climate commitments. Setting ambitious EV sales targets and transitioning to zero-carbon power sources in the United States and other nations could lead to significant reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector and move the world closer to achieving the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius relative to preindustrial levels.

    At this time, electrification of the transportation sector is occurring primarily in private light-duty vehicles (LDVs). In 2020, the global EV fleet exceeded 10 million, but that’s a tiny fraction of the cars and light trucks on the road. How much of the LDV fleet will need to go electric to keep the Paris climate goal in play? 

    To help answer that question, researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and MIT Energy Initiative have assessed the potential impacts of global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions on the evolution of LDV fleets over the next three decades.

    Using an enhanced version of the multi-region, multi-sector MIT Economic Projection and Policy Analysis (EPPA) model that includes a representation of the household transportation sector, they projected changes for the 2020-50 period in LDV fleet composition, carbon dioxide emissions, and related impacts for 18 different regions. Projections were generated under four increasingly ambitious climate mitigation scenarios: a “Reference” scenario based on current market trends and fuel efficiency policies, a “Paris Forever” scenario in which current Paris Agreement commitments (Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) are maintained but not strengthened after 2030, a “Paris to 2 C” scenario in which decarbonization actions are enhanced to be consistent with capping global warming at 2 C, and an “Accelerated Actions” scenario the caps global warming at 1.5 C through much more aggressive emissions targets than the current NDCs.

    Based on projections spanning the first three scenarios, the researchers found that the global EV fleet will likely grow to about 95-105 million EVs by 2030, and 585-823 million EVs by 2050. In the Accelerated Actions scenario, global EV stock reaches more than 200 million vehicles in 2030, and more than 1 billion in 2050, accounting for two-thirds of the global LDV fleet. The research team also determined that EV uptake will likely grow but vary across regions over the 30-year study time frame, with China, the United States, and Europe remaining the largest markets. Finally, the researchers found that while EVs play a role in reducing oil use, a more substantial reduction in oil consumption comes from economy-wide carbon pricing. The results appear in a study in the journal Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy.

    “Our study shows that EVs can contribute significantly to reducing global carbon emissions at a manageable cost,” says MIT Joint Program Deputy Director and MIT Energy Initiative Senior Research Scientist Sergey Paltsev, the lead author. “We hope that our findings will help decision-makers to design efficient pathways to reduce emissions.”  

    To boost the EV share of the global LDV fleet, the study’s co-authors recommend more ambitious policies to mitigate climate change and decarbonize the electric grid. They also envision an “integrated system approach” to transportation that emphasizes making internal combustion engine vehicles more efficient, a long-term shift to low- and net-zero carbon fuels, and systemic efficiency improvements through digitalization, smart pricing, and multi-modal integration. While the study focuses on EV deployment, the authors also stress for the need for investment in all possible decarbonization options related to transportation, including enhancing public transportation, avoiding urban sprawl through strategic land-use planning, and reducing the use of private motorized transport by mode switching to walking, biking, and mass transit.

    This research is an extension of the authors’ contribution to the MIT Mobility of the Future study. More

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    Reducing emissions by decarbonizing industry

    A critical challenge in meeting the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius is to vastly reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions generated by the most energy-intensive industries. According to a recent report by the International Energy Agency, these industries — cement, iron and steel, chemicals — account for about 20 percent of global CO2 emissions. Emissions from these industries are notoriously difficult to abate because, in addition to emissions associated with energy use, a significant portion of industrial emissions come from the process itself.

    For example, in the cement industry, about half the emissions come from the decomposition of limestone into lime and CO2. While a shift to zero-carbon energy sources such as solar or wind-powered electricity could lower CO2 emissions in the power sector, there are no easy substitutes for emissions-intensive industrial processes.

    Enter industrial carbon capture and storage (CCS). This technology, which extracts point-source carbon emissions and sequesters them underground, has the potential to remove up to 90-99 percent of CO2 emissions from an industrial facility, including both energy-related and process emissions. And that begs the question: Might CCS alone enable hard-to-abate industries to continue to grow while eliminating nearly all of the CO2 emissions they generate from the atmosphere?

    The answer is an unequivocal yes in a new study in the journal Applied Energy co-authored by researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, MIT Energy Initiative, and ExxonMobil.

    Using an enhanced version of the MIT Economic Projection and Policy Analysis (EPPA) model that represents different industrial CCS technology choices — and assuming that CCS is the only greenhouse gas emissions mitigation option available to hard-to-abate industries — the study assesses the long-term economic and environmental impacts of CCS deployment under a climate policy aimed at capping the rise in average global surface temperature at 2 C above preindustrial levels.

    The researchers find that absent industrial CCS deployment, the global costs of implementing the 2 C policy are higher by 12 percent in 2075 and 71 percent in 2100, relative to policy costs with CCS. They conclude that industrial CCS enables continued growth in the production and consumption of energy-intensive goods from hard-to-abate industries, along with dramatic reductions in the CO2 emissions they generate. Their projections show that as industrial CCS gains traction mid-century, this growth occurs globally as well as within geographical regions (primarily in China, Europe, and the United States) and the cement, iron and steel, and chemical sectors.

    “Because it can enable deep reductions in industrial emissions, industrial CCS is an essential mitigation option in the successful implementation of policies aligned with the Paris Agreement’s long-term climate targets,” says Sergey Paltsev, the study’s lead author and a deputy director of the MIT Joint Program and senior research scientist at the MIT Energy Initiative. “As the technology advances, our modeling approach offers decision-makers a pathway for projecting the deployment of industrial CCS across industries and regions.”

    But such advances will not take place without substantial, ongoing funding.

    “Sustained government policy support across decades will be needed if CCS is to realize its potential to promote the growth of energy-intensive industries and a stable climate,” says Howard Herzog, a co-author of the study and senior research engineer at the MIT Energy Initiative.

    The researchers also find that advanced CCS options such as cryogenic carbon capture (CCC), in which extracted CO2 is cooled to solid form using far less power than conventional coal- and gas-fired CCS technologies, could help expand the use of CCS in industrial settings through further production cost and emissions reductions.

    The study was supported by sponsors of the MIT Joint Program and by ExxonMobil through its membership in the MIT Energy Initiative. More