Alternative Fuel Industry Could See Boost from COP21 Commitments


Leaders from around the world converged this week in Paris to tackle climate change at the United Nations COP21 meeting, and government and private-sector officials alike have launched some major clean energy initiatives, including ones that may help advance the alternative fuel vehicle industry.

Matthew Godlewski, president of NGVAmerica, says his organization supports the COP21 effort and “members are committed to being part of the solution to reducing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions.”

“The U.S. is now the world’s number one producer of natural gas, and its use in the transportation and other sectors is helping to reduce GHG emissions,” Godlewski tells NGT News.

“Renewable natural gas, which provides even greater GHG emissions reductions, is gaining traction in some areas of the country like California,” he notes. “And federal standards here in the U.S. call for a doubling of fuel efficiency for light-duty vehicles and large efficiency improvements in heavy-duty on-road vehicles. Innovation will continue to make new engine technologies more efficient in the future, and natural gas vehicles will continue to benefit from these advancements.”

The Diesel Technology Forum, another vocal supporter of the COP21 mission, says clean diesel technology and renewable biofuels can also help both the U.S. and other countries reduce GHG emissions.

“Leaders from around the world meeting at COP21 this week are making commitments to reduce carbon emissions, which will require proven technologies – ones that can feed a growing population, enhance economic development and opportunity and improve personal mobility in all parts of the world,” says Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the group, in a press release. “To achieve these objectives will require greater implementation of proven and available technology, like the newest generation of diesel engines.”

At COP21, 20 countries signed on to the new Mission Innovation, a pledge to double their governments’ investments in clean energy research and development (R&D) over five years.

According to a White House announcement, “These additional resources will dramatically expand the new technologies that will define a future global power mix that is clean, affordable and reliable.”

Alongside the U.S., countries participating in Mission Innovation include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.K.

For its part, the U.S. will aim to double its current $5 billion cleantech R&D investment portfolio, which the White House says covers activities at 11 agencies, especially at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The White House notes that the initiative will initially focus on early-stage R&D and cover a wide array of low-carbon technologies, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, and, yes, “advanced transportation systems and fuels.”

Godlewski says NGVAmerica is optimistic that such R&D commitments will benefit the development of natural gas vehicles (NGVs).

“If you look at the countries that have signed onto the agreement, some of them have major NGV industries with much larger numbers of NGVs on the road than the U.S.,” he explains. “Although the U.S. government has not recently focused much on NGV R&D, there have been programs, such as the ARPA-E MOVE projects, that have benefited the development of innovative storage containers and home fueling appliances. These types of programs should continue to be supported going forward, and the U.S. Department of Energy should invest more research funding in the development of natural gas in heavy-duty engines.”

Also at COP21, from the private sector comes the newly launched Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which includes 28 investors from 10 countries. The group, led by none other than Bill Gates, counts Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg among its members.

Though not formally affiliated with Mission Innovation, the coalition will aim to invest in clean energy companies that arise from the mission.

In a blog post, Branson says, “The coalition will take the energy technologies of the future through early stage and the valley of death to the path to commercialization.”

Meanwhile, a blog from Gates notes that the “primary goal” of the coalition “is as much to accelerate progress on clean energy as it is to make a profit.”

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition explains on its website that the group will invest broadly.

“We don’t know where the best ideas will come from to transition the world to a near-zero-emissions energy future, so we will invest across a number of sectors,” says the group. Notably, the coalition’s list of potential cleantech investments includes those in the transportation industry.

“Private-sector dollars are critical to supporting the commercialization of new technologies,” says Godlewski.

“The government’s role should be to nurture technologies to the point where they can be introduced to the market. The private sector, however, is best suited to identify the companies and entrepreneurs who can take these ideas to the next level and gain market acceptance.”

On the state and city level in the U.S., myriad officials have either praised the COP21 agenda or announced commitments of their own to help reduce their regions’ carbon footprint. For example, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched an initiative to create the largest electric vehicle municipal fleet in the country, as well as to increase the use of other alternative fuel vehicles. More on that announcement is available here.

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