A recent study conducted by the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center (CEIC) concluded that using coal to generate electricity to power plug-in hybrids would be a great way to reduce greenhouse gases and limit America’s dependence on foreign energy supply. Although the CEIC suggests that enacting policies to subsidize the production of coal-to-liquids (CTL) transportation fuel would also enhance national security by lowering oil imports, the infrastructure for this process needs strengthening to be as effective in the short term.


The report compares greenhouse gas (CHG) emissions of CTL gasoline to the emissions produced by plug-in hybrid vehicles powered by electricity generated from coal. Researchers used a life cycle approach including all stages of the life cycle of each fuel, from production to use. An excerpt from the report summarizes the research team’s findings:

“Plug-in hybrids look more promising as a pathway for reduction of GHG emissions. Even if coal electricity without CCS is used, plug-in hybrids could lead to a GHG emissions reduction of almost 25 percent. This demonstrates the worst case for plug-in hybrids, as GHGs would be further reduced with a low-carbon electricity portfolio. It is important to note however, that this analysis does not include the emissions from manufacturing the storage battery used in plug-in hybrids. If GHG emissions from lithium-ion batteries for plug-in hybrids are included, total annual GHGs from plug-ins would increase by about 800-1,500 pounds of CO2 equivalents, depending if a twelve or eight-year vehicle life is assumed (Samaras and Meisterling 2007). Battery technologies are difficult to predict, but even when emissions from current battery production are included, plug-in hybrids result in substantially lower emissions than CTL pathways.”

More information concerning the recent research conducted by CEIC can be found on the Green Car Congress Web site in an article titled, “CMU: Plug-in Hybrids ‘More Sensible’ Use of Coal Than Coal-to-Liquids,” (http://www.greencarcongress.com/2007/06/cmu_plugin_hybr.html).

The CEIC was established in August 2001 as one of twenty centers of excellence in different industries that the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has established at thirteen universities. CEIC has merged the areas of engineering, economics, risk analysis, and decision science to address the problems of the electricity industry. CEIC’s primary areas of research include electricity markets and investment; distributed energy resources; advanced generation, transmission, and environmental issues; reliability and security of the electricity infrastructure; and demand estimation and demand response.

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