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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


Thayer School of Engineering


This study addresses the question, "When using cellulosic biomass for vehicular transportation, which field-to-wheels pathway is more efficient: that using biofuels or that using bioelectricity?" In considering the question, the level of assumed technological maturity significantly affects the comparison, as does the intended transportation application. Results from the analysis indicate that for light-duty vehicles, over ranges typical in the United States today (e.g., 560-820 miles), field-to-wheels performance is similar, with some scenarios showing biofuel to be more efficient, and others indicating the two pathways to be essentially the same. Over the current range of heavy-duty vehicles, the field-to-wheels efficiency is higher for biofuels than for electrically powered vehicles. Accounting for technological advances and range, there is little basis to expect mature bioelectricity-powered vehicles to have greater field-to-wheels efficiency (e.g., kilometers per gigajoule biomass or per hectare) compared with mature biofuel-powered vehicles.