New study will explore future of transportation

MIT Energy Initiative’s “Mobility of the Future” study examines how developments in technology, fuel, infrastructure, policy, and consumer preference will drive changes in future transportation.

April 10, 2017    ·    MITEI

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 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 who 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.”

Statements from sponsors of the “Mobility of the Future” study:

“Bosch is committed to developing innovative technologies that bring safe and efficient mobility solutions to life. We are pleased to support the MIT Energy Initiative’s Mobility of the Future project to investigate multiple future scenarios for urban mobility to improve safety, energy efficiency, and social equity outcomes in cities around the world. This project’s world-class research team has developed an ambitious multi-level approach utilizing integrated models accounting for individual behavior and differences in cultural attitudes and preferences.” – Jiri Marek, Senior Vice President, Bosch Research and Technology Center North America

“MIT is uniquely positioned to tackle an area as broad and consequential as the potential changes ahead for mobility. Its researchers’ cross-disciplinary approach will afford robust modeling at the city, national, and global level. Since mobility is not owned by any one economic sector, involvement of the members of the MIT Energy Initiative will ensure that the challenge is studied from multiple dimensions. Chevron is pleased to be a part of this important work.” – Barbara Burger, President, Chevron Technology Ventures

“Building upon our long-term partnership with the MIT Energy Initiative—both as a Founding Member and as one of the first members of its Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage Center—we believe that any study focused on addressing complex energy issues such as mobility will require collaborative, cross-functional sharing of viewpoints and ideas across all sectors. Meeting the transportation related energy needs of the growing middle class will require a mix of innovation and diversification, as well as engagement from energy, manufacturing, academia, and policymakers. We believe that the MIT Energy Initiative’s Mobility of the Future study has the resources necessary to help develop sustainable, innovative, and economically sound future mobility options.” – Vijay Swarup, Vice President for Research and Development, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company

“Ferrovial considers mobility one of the key elements that define the infrastructures of the twenty-first century. Together with MIT and other industry-leading partners, it is hoping to discern where the industry is headed by identifying the complex relationships between new vehicles, alternative fuels, new usage patterns, consumer preferences and government policies that will shape the future scenario of mobility.” – Federico Florez, Chief Information and Innovation Officer, Ferrovial

“Alfa—through its subsidiaries Nemak and Alpek—is pleased to be part of the MIT Energy Initiative’s Mobility of the Future study. With the transportation space entering a period of unprecedented change and opportunity driven by emerging technologies and trends, there is a growing need to leverage knowledge and innovation across sectors—including academia, government, and industry—to develop and implement sustainable mobility solutions. This consortium will help to meet this challenge, tapping into a world-class, multidisciplinary team to better inform our understanding of the forces shaping the future transportation system.” – José Carlos Pons, Vice President of Business Development, Nemak

“As the internal combustion engine will continue to power global transport for decades to come, we believe that investing in improving engine technology is essential for any substantial reduction of the transport sector’s environmental footprint. We also believe that removing existing constraints on fuels and simultaneous development of engines and fuels will unlock tremendous potential that is currently untapped. This however requires not only collaboration between industry and academia, but also putting in place a regulatory framework that considers the merits of different technologies based on their full life-cycle impact.” – Ahmad Al-Khowaiter, CTO, Saudi Aramco

“We are excited to be a part of the MIT Energy Initiative’s ‘Mobility of the Future’ consortium because its collective ability to innovate, connect systems, and test ideas across the world is unparalleled. We believe helping people move more freely is essential for unleashing human potential, and the diversity of thought and global reach that this consortium offers complements our mission to partner with others to create a more mobile society.” – Ryan Klem, Director of Programs & Partnerships, Toyota Mobility Foundation

This article appears in the issue of Energy Futures.


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