APR 21, 2019 07:04 AM PDT

Will self-driving cars results in higher emissions?

According to a new University of Michigan study, the benefits we will be reaping in the not-so-distant future from self-driving cars may be overshadowed by a grave danger: higher emissions.

That’s not because the cars themselves will produce more emissions, but instead because of a psychological factor: a behavioral change known as the rebound effect.

Autonomous cars may encourage us to drive more miles, thus generating higher total emissions. Photo: PBS

You see, scientists expect self-driving cars to result in significant improvements in energy efficiency. But researchers fear that this great fuel efficiency, combined with the fact that passengers will be able to use their travel time more productively, will result in people ultimately driving more miles, which could partially or completely offset the energy savings expected from autonomous vehicles. This could even lead to a net increase in energy consumption.

The study was led by Dow Sustainability Doctoral Fellow Morteza Taiebat at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability and was published last week in the journal Applied Energy.

The researchers analyzed fuel cost and time cost using economic theory and U.S. travel survey data in order to predict travel behavior and model how certain behaviors will influence energy use. Because "perceived travel time cost" is expected to fall 38% with the use of autonomous vehicles (meaning, that people won’t consider driving a waste of time because they will be able to do other things while en route from place to place), the fuel savings associated with self-driving cars could be completely nullified. This exhibits a phenomenon called backfire.

"Backfire -- a net rise in energy consumption -- is a distinct possibility if we don't develop better efficiencies, policies and applications," Taiebat said. Air pollution, too, could greatly increase as a result of this.

"The core message of the paper is that the induced travel of self-driving cars presents a stiff challenge to policy goals for reductions in energy use," said co-author Samuel Stolper. "Thus, much higher energy efficiency targets are required for self-driving cars," said co-author Ming Xu.

Sources: Science Daily, Applied Energy

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUN 26, 2019
Earth & The Environment
JUN 26, 2019
Something you didn't know about Earth Day
The worldwide celebration of Earth Day began on April 22, 1970, when people rallied together to protest the declining biodiversity and increasing pollution...
JUN 26, 2019
Earth & The Environment
JUN 26, 2019
Unsafe Antibiotic Levels Detected in Rivers Worldwide
Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to global health. Scientists from the University of York conducted a global study of river samples to identify...
JUN 26, 2019
Earth & The Environment
JUN 26, 2019
Britain's coal-free streak
The UK is breaking records with a no-coal streak of 16 days in counting as of yesterday. This is the first time in over 130 years that the UK has been powe...
JUN 26, 2019
Plants & Animals
JUN 26, 2019
These Spiders Risk Their Lives to Find a Mate
When you’re just an itsy-bitsy spider, you tend to be particularly vulnerable to predation by the plethora of larger animals all around you, like bir...
JUN 26, 2019
Microbiology
JUN 26, 2019
Swimming in the Ocean Changes the Skin Microbiome
This alteration may leave people more vulnerable to infection and disease....
JUN 26, 2019
Earth & The Environment
JUN 26, 2019
Floating Plastic Clean up Device Back at Sea
A device slated to clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years was recently redeployed on its second mission. The Ocean Cleanup&mdash...
Loading Comments...