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Autonomous taxis could greatly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions of US light-duty vehicles

Abstract

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are conveyances to move passengers or freight without human intervention. AVs are potentially disruptive both technologically and socially1,2,3, with claimed benefits including increased safety, road utilization, driver productivity and energy savings1,2,3,4,5,6. Here we estimate 2014 and 2030 greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and costs of autonomous taxis (ATs), a class of fully autonomous7,8 shared AVs likely to gain rapid early market share, through three synergistic effects: (1) future decreases in electricity GHG emissions intensity, (2) smaller vehicle sizes resulting from trip-specific AT deployment, and (3) higher annual vehicle-miles travelled (VMT), increasing high-efficiency (especially battery-electric) vehicle cost-effectiveness. Combined, these factors could result in decreased US per-mile GHG emissions in 2030 per AT deployed of 87–94% below current conventionally driven vehicles (CDVs), and 63–82% below projected 2030 hybrid vehicles9, without including other energy-saving benefits of AVs. With these substantial GHG savings, ATs could enable GHG reductions even if total VMT, average speed and vehicle size increased substantially. Oil consumption would also be reduced by nearly 100%.

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Figure 1: GHG emissions (coloured bars, left-hand axis) and vehicle efficiencies (symbols, right-hand axis) versus vehicle technology and GHG intensity assumptions.
Figure 2: Total annual cost of LDVs versus annual VMT in 2014 and 2030 for four vehicle technologies.
Figure 3: GHG emissions intensities per mile for CDVs in 2014 and 2030, and ATs in 2030.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank A. Brown, J. Gonder, A. Gopal, D. Millstein, B. Morrow, S. Moura, N. Shah, A. Sturges, R. van Buskirk, J. Ward and T. Wenzel for insights and draft feedback. Special thanks go to C. Scown for analysing FHA data. Work was supported in part by Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding through Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, under US Department of Energy Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231.

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S.S. performed vehicle powertrain calculations; J.B.G. performed all other calculations and analysis. J.B.G. and S.S. wrote the manuscript and made any appropriate revisions.

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Correspondence to Jeffery B. Greenblatt.

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Greenblatt, J., Saxena, S. Autonomous taxis could greatly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions of US light-duty vehicles. Nature Clim Change 5, 860–863 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2685

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