Developing New Technologies

Efforts to reduce transportation- and energy-related GHG emissions focus on reducing total energy demand (through, for example, conservation or changes in consumption patterns); improving energy efficiency; reducing the GHG intensity of the energy supply (by using energy sources that emit fewer or no GHGs); and direct capture and sequestration of CO2 during or after the combustion of fossil fuels (see Figure 4.2 and Chapters 13 and 14). The strategy of reducing demand is discussed earlier (under Theme 2: Human Behavior and Institutions). Technology development is directed primarily toward the other three strategies: efficiency, lower carbon intensity, and carbon capture and storage.

Numerous scientific and engineering disciplines contribute to the development and implementation of energy technology options: the physical, biological, and engineering sciences, for example, are all critical for the development of new technologies, while the social sciences play a key role in both technology development and technology deployment and adoption. In many cases, these diverse disciplines need to work together to evaluate, improve, and expand energy technology options. A coordinated strategy for promoting and integrating energy-related research is needed to ensure the most efficient use of investments among these disciplines and activities.

A number of reports (e.g., Technology and Transformation [NRC, 2009d] and the Strategic Plan of the U.S. Climate Change Technology Program [DOE, 2009c]) have suggested that priority areas for strategic investment in the energy sector should include energy end use and infrastructure, sustainable energy supply, carbon sequestration, and reduction of non-CO2 GHG emissions. These are discussed in Chapter 14. In the transpor tation sector, key research and development topics include vehicle efficiency, vehicles that run on electricity or non-petroleum-based transportation fuels, and technologies and policies that could reduce travel demand (including, for example, communication technologies like video conferencing). Chapter 13 includes additional discussion on these topics.

Technology developments in the energy and transportation sector are interrelated. For example, widespread adoption of batteries and fuel cells would switch the main source of transportation energy from petroleum to electricity, but this switch will only result in significant GHG emissions reductions if the electricity sector can provide low- and no-GHG electricity on a large scale. This and other codependencies between the energy and transportation sectors underscore the need for an integrated, holistic national approach to limit the magnitude of future climate change as well as related research investments. Widespread adoption of new transportation or energy technologies would also demand significant restructuring of the nation's existing transportation and energy infrastructure, and scientific and engineering research will play an important role in optimizing that design.

As described in Chapter 12, urban design presents additional opportunities for limiting climate change. The design of urban developments can, for example, reduce the GHG "footprints" of buildings and the level of demand they create for motorized travel. However, the success of new urban and building designs will depend on better understanding of how technology design, social and economic considerations, and attractiveness to potential occupants can be brought together in the cultural contexts where the developments will occur. Research is also needed to consider the implication of new designs for human vulnerability to climate change as well as other environmental changes.

Finally, as discussed in Chapter 10, there are a number of potential options for reducing GHG emissions from the agricultural, fisheries, and aquaculture sectors through new technologies or management strategies. Development of new fertilizers and fertilizer management strategies that reduce emissions of N2O is one area of interest— one that may also yield benefits in terms of agricultural contributions to other forms of pollution. Reducing CH4 emissions through changes in rice technologies or ruminant feed technologies are two additional areas of active research. Further research is needed in these and other areas, and also on the effectiveness, costs and benefits, and perceptions of farmers, fish stock managers, and consumers when considering implementation of new technologies in these sectors.

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