Energy demand for transportation — which today accounts for approximately one-fifth of the world's energy consumption — is expected to rise substantially as a growing middle class in emerging economies demands greater access. But how will such demand be addressed in the years ahead?
As part of MIT's five-year Plan for Action on Climate Change, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) has launched a major study — "Mobility of the Future" — to explore how consumers and markets will respond to potentially disruptive technologies, business models, and government policies. The scope of this study is ground transportation with an emphasis on the movement of people.
"It is well recognized that transportation is the most challenging economic sector to decarbonize," says Robert Armstrong, director of MITEI and a professor of chemical engineering. "Our three-year 'Mobility of the Future' study is tackling complex questions of how technology advances, consumer choice, new business models, and government policies could change the trajectory of mobility to fundamentally alter the carbon intensity of the future transportation system."
There are many potentially disruptive forces at work in the mobility space, all of which could shape the landscape. MITEI has organized a multidisciplinary team from across MIT to examine the complex interactions among these elements and their implications for the future.
The study team will explore the potential for widespread deployment of advanced powertrains, such as advanced internal combustion engines, hybrid-electric vehicles, all-electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles. The study will also examine the consequences of using electricity and fuels such as natural gas, e-fuels, biofuels, and hydrogen to power these vehicles.
Other areas of focus will include research into new mobility business models such as ride hailing and car sharing, and demographic changes such as greater urbanization and the growing middle class in many developing countries. Researchers will use agent-based modeling systems to examine how people travel in metropolitan areas and how these consumers' mode choice decisions are influenced by congestion and government policies. These decisions depend on many factors including city characteristics, infrastructure, personal income, travel needs, and availability of options including personal car, bicycle, public transportation, and ride hailing services. The team will also gather data to better understand people's attitudes regarding car ownership and usage, and how these attitudes vary across different cultures and age groups.
Researchers will also explore how various government policies — such as those regarding emissions controls and congestion mitigation — can impact prosperity, adoption of alternative modes of transportation, and emissions. The study will also address the important topic of vehicle automation, with a focus on how government policy affects the introduction and use of these technologies.
The study is supported by energy, automotive, and infrastructure companies that are providing industry perspectives on mobility problems that require solutions. Sponsors include Alfa, Bosch, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Ferrovial, General Motors, Saudi Aramco, Statoil, and Toyota Mobility Foundation.
While there is a particular focus on the U.S., E.U., and China, data collection for the study is global in scope. Dalia Research, a Berlin-based mobile research company, is contributing to the study and has already completed surveys with 43,000 participants from across 50 countries to measure perceptions and attitudes toward vehicle technologies, mobility services, and regulations.
"The 'Mobility of the Future' study brings together academia and industry to identify the most compelling questions about the future of mobility and define scenarios that we will simulate with our modeling tools to understand the consequences," says William H. Green, a professor of chemical engineering who is the study's faculty chair. "The multi-disciplinary MIT team brings together all of the vital skills for this important study, including city and transportation planning, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and economics. We look forward to sharing findings that we hope will inform industry, city planners, and government policies."