MIT Study Predicts Well-to-Wheel Vehicle Emissions for 2030

MIT Graph of Plug-In Hybrids

Recently, I discussed the interaction between clean energy and the future of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). The study cited makes it clear that unless we clean up power production, there isn’t much point in moving to PHEVs from regular, old hybrids (HEVs).

Interestingly enough, MIT has just come out with a new study, profiled by Green Car Congress, which studies all sorts of vehicle options and how each vehicle will perform in well-to-wheel greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. This study was done particularly on HEVs, PHEVs, battery electric vehicles (BEVs), and fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs). The MIT researchers came to the conclusion that ultimately, electric propulsion in automobiles could eliminate our dependence on petroleum, which to me sounds like an exciting prospect, regardless of GHG emissions.

Looking at the graph (click on it for larger view), you can quite clearly see that with the predicted grid energy mix 2030, HEVs fair just as well as PHEVs, and even better than some technologies like BEVs and PHEV-60 (PHEVs with an electric range of 60 miles).

To do this study, the researchers predicted some basic advances in technology and applied them over the 22 years between now and the target date, but to keep it simple they did not include trends that have caused manufacturers to build large and more powerful cars. Instead, they kept size and power constant relative to a baseline 2.5L Toyota Camry.

While the researchers note that in 2030 HEVs will represent a 63% GHG reduction over current automobiles and 43% over 2030-era gasoline cars, PHEV, FCV, and BEV GHG reductions will depend heavily on how efficient the grid is.

This certainly begs the question of what the point is, anyway. If everything past HEV looks like it’s coming out a wash, why should we change our habits and throw all this money at PHEV and FCV production? The answer is simple, though not always apparent. When the energy burden is shifted from each individual automobile (with numbers in the millions) to a much smaller number of power plants, government regulations and new technologies will be much easier to apply. Try to imagine changing every car on the road to a HEV, and then imagine making a law saying that the grid must be 20% renewable in 10 years. It will be much easier, especially on the average citizen, to have a large change take place in a much more concerted, and less individual manner.

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Benjamin Jones

Benjamin Jones is a student of Dartmouth College and co-founder of and writer at He is double majoring in Japanese and Linguistics, and is most interested in Sociolinguistics and Anthropology in Japan.