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Recap: Toward Carbon Neutral Mobility

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Ford Motor Company’s Tim Wallington, PhD, Offers Perspective at U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s 2021 Thought Leadership Series

On August 24, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) welcomed Ford Motor Company’s Tim Wallington, PhD, to its 2021 thought leadership speaker series, Innovation for a Sustainable, Equitable Transportation System.

Wallington is a senior technical leader in research and advanced engineering in the Research and Innovation Center at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit and an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan. He works to understand local, regional, and global environmental impacts of transportation and has coauthored 540 peer-reviewed scientific publications, 26 book chapters, and seven books dealing with various aspects of vehicle emissions and environmental impacts. 

The session was hosted by U.S. DOT Volpe Center Director Anne Aylward.

This post provides a recap of Wallington’s talk. You can also watch video highlights from the event.

Global Trends Inform Corporate Commitments

While it may be hard to predict the future, there is clear evidence of a significant increase in global average temperature and atmospheric CO2 since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris Climate Accord calls for limiting global average temperature increases to no more than +1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.

Indeed, Ford Motor Company, which invests in a team of scientists and engineers who study climate change, energy, sustainability, and innovation, has made a corporate commitment to doing its part to keep climate change below +2ºC and aspires to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. 

“Addressing climate change is arguably the most difficult task ever undertaken by humanity.” 
- Tim Wallington, PhD, Ford Motor Company

According to Wallington, Ford’s corporate aspiration is rooted in an analysis of the company’s emissions that is based on the Carbon Disclosure Project’s projections; the analysis revealed that 75 percent of Ford-related emissions are associated with the use of the vehicles the company manufactures, and an additional 20 percent of emissions (a combination of activity generated by suppliers and supply chain, factories, and facilities) can be addressed with internal emissions reductions policies and programs.

A 2050 carbon-neutrality plan that includes interim targets is science-based and aims to reduce vehicle use related emissions by 50 percent by 2035 (from 2019 levels) and reduce manufacturing and facilities related emissions by 76 percent (from 2017 levels).

Understanding the Contours of Transportation-Sector Emissions

One of the hallmarks of Ford Motor Company’s research approach is lifecycle analysis, which produces a comprehensive and wide-ranging output. Wallington places CO2 emissions in a global context, comparing domestic emissions by sector; the transportation sector—and primarily surface transportation vehicles—produce just under 40 percent of U.S. CO2 emissions. But he asks a critical follow-on question about where road-sector emissions come from.

The answer is the result of an expansive research effort by the International Transport Forum (ITF), an intergovernmental organization with 63 member countries. ITF’s analysis compares numerous powertrain technologies (such as traditional internal combustion gas and diesel engines, battery electric vehicles, fuel-cell electric vehicles, and others) against different categories of activity such as vehicle and battery production, fuel production and delivery, and tailpipe emissions.

Fuel use dominated the emissions lifecycle, so Wallington asserts that aggressive plans for electrification are necessary to achieve climate goals.

“Transformational change is underway in the global automotive industry,” according to Wallington, and Ford is prioritizing the full electrification of its “iconic brands” (the F-150, Transit, and Mustang). Ford Motor Company is investing approximately $30 billion in offering electric vehicles to markets around the world.

Opportunities for Optimism About Carbon-Neutral Mobility

Wallington acknowledged that reducing and mitigating climate change is a daunting challenge, but there have been “remarkable changes in the past decade in renewable electricity progress, including a dramatic decline in the costs of solar and wind renewable energy.” What’s more, recent historical trends show that decarbonization and emissions reduction are compatible with economic growth as measured by GDP. He notes that “we’ve done hard things in the past” with respect to improving air quality and eliminating the use of chlorofluorocarbons.

Recent research reveals significant progress in battery efficiencies, which can help remove barriers to the adoption of battery-powered electric vehicles, and potentially higher demand based on new federal and state climate policies and regulations. Other carbon-neutral fuel options, including biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells, and synthetic “e-fuels,” are being compared across a range of criteria, from compatibility with existing fleets and fuel delivery infrastructure to energy density and raw material needs. 

According to Wallington, the largest changes in the automotive industry in the past century are happening right now: “The connectivity revolution and automation revolution, together with the electrification revolution, will greatly affect urban traffic patterns, energy use, and emissions.” These advances are likely to dramatically transform the mobility landscape. 

Video Highlights

"Toward Carbon-Neutral Mobility" Highlights

Dr. Tim Wallington on the Difficulty of Solving the Climate Change Challenge

Dr. Tim Wallington on the Challenge of Reaching Carbon Neutrality

Dr. Tim Wallington on Why He Is Optimistic about Achieving Carbon Neutrality

The views of the speaker do not represent the views of U.S. DOT.

Celebrating more than 50 years of federal service to the nation, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s mission is to improve the nation's transportation system by anticipating emerging issues and advancing technical, operational, and institutional innovations for the public good.