Alternative-Fuels Researchers Awarded $2.7 Million by California Energy Commission

June 2012

The UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS-Davis) will receive a two-year, $2.77 million grant from the California Energy Commission to research the value, benefits and drawbacks of all types of alternative transportation fuels and fuel uses in California. The Energy Commission approved the grant at its June 13, 2012 meeting in Sacramento.

The grant will support teams of research leaders and graduate students in the Institute’s NextSTEPS consortium as they complete eight complex research tasks.

NextSTEPS is studying transitions to a sustainable transportation energy future, gaining unique insight from its multidisciplinary approach, and disseminating that knowledge to decision-makers in the private sector and governmental agencies so that they can make informed technology, investment and policy choices. It is the successor to the ITS-Davis research program named STEPS, for Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways.

“This grant will allow us to conduct a wide assessment of the major alternative-fuel transitions in California, and enable us to inform the CEC in its investment decision-making,” said NextSTEPS Program Director Joan Ogden, a UC Davis professor of environmental science and policy (pictured at right). “We look forward to helping the CEC maximize the reduction of greenhouse gases in California.”

NextSTEPS brings together research from diverse academic disciplines, including vehicle engineering and design, systems analysis and operations, chemical and mechanical engineering, lifecycle cost and emissions analyses, market and consumer research, sociology and anthropology, economics and business strategy, and policy analysis. Under this new contract, the UC Davis team will draw on those diverse disciplines to develop robust scenarios for the Energy Commission. For example, using data from its world-leading research on consumer response to alternative-fuel vehicles, researchers can inform market-growth expectations and strategies, and offer insight on the role of fueling infrastructure in driving consumer adoption of alternative vehicles. The project also will provide scenarios for biofuel investments and deployment, offer advice on possible policy tools, assess low-carbon fuel options for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, assess natural gas as a transportation fuel in California, and enhance agency staff technology awareness through training workshops.

The NextSTEPS work will inform the Energy Commission’s funding allocations and investment plans for the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, created by Assembly Bill 118. Through this program, the Energy Commission provides grants, loans and incentives to help kick-start alternative transportation fuel and vehicle technologies to advance the state’s climate change policies.

STEPS background (2007-2010)

STEPS began in 2007 with a goal of performing robust, impartial comparative analyses of fuel/vehicle pathways by drawing on expertise in engineering, economics, environmental science and consumer behavior. An interdisciplinary team of 15 Ph.D.-level researchers and 25 graduate students was formed. Funding support totaling $8 million was provided by a robust coalition of 23 sponsors, including government agencies and top automakers and energy companies.

The research results of that four-year program were published in December 2011 as a book, Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways: A Research Summary for Decision Makers. It was written to help inform researchers, planners and decision makers in industry and government about the potential costs and benefits of various alternative fuel/vehicle pathways, and to illuminate viable transition strategies toward a more sustainable transportation future.

The book is available for purchase ($61 color, $12.25 black-and-white) or as a free download (PDF). Details are here.

Photo: Dr. Joan Ogden, NextSTEPS director