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Notes from the Lab


An MIT assessment of likely new technologies for passenger cars in 2020 has come up with no overall winners in the race for cars with lower greenhouse-gas and other emissions. Initial results show that the gains from continued work on conventional fuels and vehicles are so great that emerging technologies like the fuel cell will have trouble competing.

By 2020, conventional vehicles will be twice as efficient, half as polluting and cost little more than they do now. New technologies will provide somewhat greater efficiency and emissions gains but at a much higher cost.

The researchers compared the technologies using data from various sources, adjusted so that key assumptions were consistent. The assessment examined how vehicle purchasers, fuel manufacturers, vehicle distributors, and other major "stakeholders" would trade off dozens of characteristics of different technologies. It confirmed that what is unimportant to one stakeholder group can be a real "show-stopper" for another. Identifying showstoppers and developing strategies to overcome them is the researchers' ultimate goal.

The work was led by Drs. Malcolm Weiss and Elisabeth Drake of the Energy Laboratory; Dr. Andreas Schafer of the Center for Technology, Policy and Industrial Development; and Professor John Heywood of mechanical engineering. This research was supported by the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation and by Chevron, Exxon, Mobil and Norsk Hydro.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 8, 2000.

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