NCAR to study complex ties between new transportation technologies and climate

Research will focus on electric and autonomous vehicles

Oct 20, 2023 - by David Hosansky

As the transportation sector shifts toward electric vehicles and prepares for autonomous vehicles, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has been awarded funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to better understand how new road transportation technologies affect the climate and, in turn, are affected as the climate changes.

NCAR will be partnering with the new Global Center for Clean Energy and Equitable Transportation Solutions (CLEETS). A joint venture of NSF and the United Kingdom Research and Innovation Engineering and Physical Sciences Council, CLEETS will bring together leading climate, energy, data science, and transportation experts to research ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from road transportation.

Motor vehicles are a major source of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that warms the planet. Road transportation networks are also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including severe storms and coastal inundation that can paralyze traffic patterns and damage infrastructure, as well as extreme heat that can buckle roadways.

NCAR will analyze the many, and often complex, ways that emerging transportation technologies interact with the climate. Electric vehicles, for example, are far heavier than traditional gas-powered vehicles, which has implications for the durability of roads and bridges as storms and heat waves become more extreme. In addition, higher temperatures will affect the batteries that power motor vehicles, and adverse weather conditions will pose challenges for the safety of self-driving cars.

“As we change the transportation network to hopefully be greener and more efficient, we need to understand the advantages of these technologies as well as the new challenges,” said NCAR scientist Curtis Walker, who is the NCAR principal investigator for the project. “The climate is changing at the same time that we’re seeing new stressors on infrastructure, which means that the concept of resilience is changing.”

CLEETS is led by the University of Illinois and the University of Birmingham. For more, see the news release by the Discovery Partners Institute of the University of Illinois System.

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