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 Author  Dr Mark Beecroft and Dr Jillian Anable
University of Aberdeen
 Last Updated  13 April 2012
 Status  Peer reviewed document
 Download Landscape  PDF 835 KB

Section :

Characterisation of the field

The scope of the energy-related transport research topic is broad. It covers three broad areas: science and engineering activity focused on the development of cleaner and more efficient vehicles, fuels and other forms of transport; transport systems and their relationship to wider issues about spatial planning and economic development; and questions of individual travel behaviour and the factors that influence it. Transport demand can be split into passenger and freight as well as surface, aviation and maritime.

Work on alternative powertrain technologies including plug-in electric vehicles, hydrogen and fuel cells could have profound implications for patterns of energy use in the transport sector. Recent policy developments have opened up a range of research opportunities in these areas, particularly in relation to electric vehicles and other aspects of energy efficient vehicle design. These are evolving areasof strength in the UK. (Note: Hydrogen and fuel cell research is the subject of separate landscape documents, as is energy storage and bio-energy. Transport modelling is also covered elsewhere although all of these aspects are covered to some degree in this document.)

Whilst there is a strong and internationally respected UK research community in many areas of transport research (e.g. transport engineering, telematics and vehicle locationing, spatial planning, travel behaviour) there is little independent focus on transport and energy other than in the areas of automotive design and alternative fuels. Traditional transport studies addresses a broad range of challenges including safety, performance, system integration, air quality etc. and more recently increased interdisciplinary effort has been focused on travel behaviour and demand reduction. In this community, however, it can be difficult to separate energy related-transport research from transport research morebroadly. Traditionally the transport studies and energy research communities have not been well integrated.

However, the policy imperative in relation to climate change and energy security and recent funding initiatives at both the basic and development ends of the spectrum have channelled engineering, planning and social science expertise towards transformative solutions to the energy challenges. Overall, increases in funding through the RCUK Energy Programme, Digital EconomyProgramme and the Technology Strategy Board suggests a substantial ramping up and that the landscape of transport research is changing to be more integrated and focused on the environmental and/or energy consequences of transport technologies and activities. The development of the Energy Technologies Institute and Technology Strategy Board have provided a route to trials and demonstrations of alternatively fuelled vehicles and digital solutions that did not exist in the first edition ofthis landscape in 2007. There has also been increasing focus on demand side management in recent targeted programmes in the RCUK Energy Programme. As a result, behavioural and societal focused researchers in the UK are increasingly engaging in energy research opportunities with a focus on linking technology developments with demand side management in the transport sector. However, there is still some way to go in order to reflect the fact that this sector is responsible for ca.30 of energy demand.

For basic and applied strategic research, the range of disciplinary inputs is wide. Science and engineering aspects include mechanical, combustion and chemical engineering. To some extent, automotive and aeronautical engineering have emerged as disciplines in their own right. Transport systems have been addressed by both civil engineers and planners. A wide range of disciplines from the social sciences and economics can provide insight into travel behaviour patterns. Business schools have addressed several transport-related topics.

Research Challenges

The scale of the challenge to reduce carbon emissions and energy use from the transport sector almost certainly involves changing patterns of travel behaviour as well as improving the performance of transport technologies. In this sense, the cultural and political challenges facing this sector are arguably as large if not larger than the technological and economic ones. Yet, both the transport policy and research community has focused and delivered more in relation to technology development and performance. Issues of social acceptance, societal transitions and human-technology interactions have been less developed. There is now a growing recognition of the need for inter-disciplinary work and a whole-systems approach to the transport and energy system but overall, there still tends to be a ‘technology versus behaviour’ divide in policy and research in relation to transport and energy and this gulf remains one of the greatest research challenges in this area.

Nevertheless, the research challenges in transport also extend to the supply side across vehicles and infrastructure. These challenges were articulated by the New Automotive Innovation and Growth Team (NAIGT), an initiative of the former Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, who produced a technology road map in 2009, the implementation of which is nowoverseen by the Automotive Council. It identifies a strong and innovative industry but highlights a lack of consistent policy framework or industrial strategy and a shortage of skills. The key research challenges can be seen as: the development of cleaner and more efficient vehicles and other forms of transport; the development of alternative transport fuels such as gas-to-liquids, bio-fuels and, in the longer-term, hydrogen; the development of transport systems which will lead to lower energy use and environmental impacts. Predicting the progress of these technologies and their cost are key research challenges.

On the demand side, predicting people’s responses to changing prices, levels of service, technologies and opportunities is crucial, particularly given the changing economic and demographic contexts. This includes, for example, the uptake of electric vehicles, switches from one mode of transport to another (e.g. car to public transport or reducing the demand for air travel); understanding what determines people’s transport habits and choices and means of influencing these. In addition, research needs to concentrate on the development of a long term strategy to influence land use and land use patterns with the view to reducing the demand for personal, business and freight transport. Finally, travel will be a key component in carbon auditing at the personal level as a basis for carbon benchmarking, pricing, (cap-and-) trading, monitoring of strategies, etc.

On both the supply and demand sides, freight transport on all modes but especially the efficiency of heavy goods vehicles is a notable gap in the research landscape. The TSB has recently identified this and will soon fund the Low carbon truck demonstration trial. But there is still a dearth of funding in low carbon vehicles and logistics for goods traffic.
Aviation and shipping are also particularly important challenges and have been the focus of recent targeted research efforts by the EPSRC but there appears to be little integration in these latter areas between publicly and privately funded R&D efforts and these areas have not yet been the focus of TSB programmes.

Overall, research in this area has been largely incremental and not transformative with a recent concentration on accelerated deployment rather than speculative research. Where research has been conducted on performance new technologies, including digital technology, the scale of trials has been relatively small.

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