Feds favor electric vehicles over hydrogen in a bid to “decarbonize” the US going forward.

  • Four government agencies — the Departments of Energy and Transportation, plus the HUD and EPA — said last fall that they would work together to create cleaner, more accessible modes of transportation across the country by 2050. This week they released the US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization, detailing how this will happen.
  • Transformed cities and towns and better public transport are part of the plan, but the biggest emissions reductions will come from cleaning the vehicle fleet.
  • The agencies see three main alternatives to fossil fuels in our future – electricity, hydrogen and sustainable biofuels – but they have wildly different use cases.

Last fall, the Departments of Energy, Transport, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency announced that they will work together to create a “clean, safe, accessible, equitable and decarbonized transport system for all.” The agencies published this week their promised blueprint that brings up some details about these bones.

The first of its kind, dubbed the US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization, envisions three well-known technology solutions for net-zero travel by 2050: batteries, hydrogen, and sustainable liquid fuels. What is most interesting, if not exactly surprising to drivers, is how the design predicts these three technologies. The technology with the “greatest long-term opportunity” to decarbonize light commercial vehicles, for example, is battery power. Hydrogen is at the top of the list for heavy-duty trucks in long-distance transport. And sustainable liquid fuels are probably best for boats and planes.

What is perhaps more interesting is that the authorities see no place for hydrogen in the passenger car fleet. While hydrogen is thought to have limited potential to make heavy short-haul trucks and off-road vehicles greener, the blueprint diagram doesn’t even support that certain optimism for passenger cars. Although the blueprint lists building clean hydrogen infrastructure as one of the research priorities for the country, it doesn’t appear to help make our daily drivers cleaner.

Electric vehicle and hydrogen filling station renewable

US Department of Energy

Change the look of cities?

The 88-page National Blueprint looks at more than just types of energy, including a rethink of the layout of local communities so that “employment centers, shopping, schools, entertainment and essential services are strategically located near where people live. Communities like this will reduce the amount of time people spend commuting, among other benefits. Making public transport and trains more reliable and affordable is also planned, but the biggest improvements in carbon reduction will come from cleaning up the modes of transport themselves.

With this second major step in the decade-long decarbonization plan now complete, the four agencies have also provided a high-level overview of the milestones planned for the coming decades as the US moves towards a net-zero economy . By 2030, it is research and investment to support deployment. In the 2030s, clean transport solutions will scale, and in the 2040s, we will “complete the transition.” At least that’s the plan.

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