APR 21, 2019 7:04 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
DEC 29, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 29, 2019
Zoo in Michigan Sees Birth of Critically Endangered Black Rhino
Staff caring for a pregnant 12-year-old black rhino named Doppsee at Lansing, Michigan’s Potter Park Zoo had a lot to be excited about this past Chri...
JAN 08, 2020
Cardiology
JAN 08, 2020
Insecticides Linked to Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Death
New research from the University of Iowa has shown that prolonged exposure to common household insecticides may increase one’s risk for developing ca...
JAN 05, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 05, 2020
Frozen rivers on the decline
A study entitled, "The past and future of global river ice," is the first comprehensive study to quantify temporal shifts in river ice cover on s...
JAN 06, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 06, 2020
Every River Leap a Proboscis Monkey Makes Could be its Last
Leaves are one of the most essential components of a proboscis monkey’s diet, and in some cases, getting to the tastiest leaves means taking an enorm...
JAN 15, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 15, 2020
Glacial Floods: The Lesser-Known Climate Change-Related Disaster
Natural phenomena such as wildfires and hurricanes are intensifying due to climate change, but have you heard of glacial floods? This lesser-known threat,...
JAN 28, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 28, 2020
Humans Causing "Blue Acceleration" on Ocean Resources
Humans have depended on ocean resources for centuries. However, a recent analysis of the state of the ocean showed a sharp acceleration in human pressures...
Loading Comments...